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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 April 2006, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Who is responsible for our diets?
A study claims many of the world's top food companies are not trying hard enough to improve our diet, but where does the company's responsibility end and ours begin?

Pile of chips
Should we be warned off these...

Arguments that junk food is ruining the health of our nation are nothing new.

Dire predictions of Britain becoming more obese than the US have been standard fare for newspapers in recent years.

The nation's supermarkets have been targeted for promoting salty, fatty foods at the end of their aisles at the expense of healthier alternatives.

Broadcasters have been criticised for allowing sweets and crisps to be advertised to children.

Celebrities have taken flak for allowing their names to be associated with salty, fatty snack foods.

Now it is the turn of food manufacturers themselves. According to City University's report, they are failing to produce or promote healthy foods.

But the Food and Drink Federation, which represents the manufacturers, has hit back at these suggestions.

We cannot force people to make these decisions - it is really up to them
British Nutrition Foundation

The federation's Christine Welberry says the industry accepts it has a role to play in educating and helping the consumer make healthier choices.

But she said the industry had already acted and 33bn of products with "full nutritional information" would be on supermarket shelves by the end of 2006.

Just buy fresh food and cook it yourself!
CC Park, London

She said 7.4bn of lower fat and salt products were supplied to retailers last year, adding: "The food industry is very much committed to working with government and consumers on the issue of food and health."

'Empowering the individual'

The British Dietetic Association agrees that companies should have a role to play.

Dietician Dr Frankie Phillips said: "We buy most of our food from these companies so they do have a large element to contribute towards the nutritional wellbeing of the public."

...but encouraged to eat these?

Dr Phillips said most food-producing companies took their responsibilities to the public seriously and supplied enough information for consumers to make the right choices.

But she said more needed to be done to "empower the individual" and "make the healthy choice the easy choice".

She highlighted the strategies used to market food to children, saying they could be changed to allow parents to make decisions without the "pester power" of their children.

She cited as a general misconception the attitude that crisps and chocolate could not be part of a healthy diet, saying that keeping people informed was the key to healthy eating.

While the British Nutrition Foundation also extolled the virtues of educating the nation, it put the onus for making decisions on healthy eating much more squarely on the individual.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said it was "really useful" to have nutritional information on food labels, but added: "We cannot force people to make these decisions - it is really up to them."

She also said there was no proof of a connection between children's diets and the advertisements they watched.

This particular debate, it seems, shows no sign of resolving itself just yet.


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