The Government has ‘paused’ its Public Health Responsibility Deal after being forced to defend it for five years, the Daily Mail has learnt.
Just last week Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, warned that obesity is the biggest risk to women’s health – comparing its threat to that of terrorism – and urged the Government to make it a national priority
The Responsibility Deal was announced to fanfare in 2010, supposedly to persuade food and drinks firms to take more responsibility for public health by reducing sugar, salt, calories and alcohol in their products.
But Whitehall insiders have admitted the programme ‘had no teeth’ against the powerful food lobby.
The scheme’s committees have not met for at least eight months and sources say they will be replaced next year by a programme that poses a greater ‘challenge’ to the industry. Doctors have long criticised the programme – saying it was like putting ‘Dracula in charge of the blood bank’ – and insisted that proper regulation is vital.
It now appears that ministers have listened to critics and shelved the programme.
Professor Susan Jebb, a respected Oxford University nutrition scientists who chairs the scheme, defended its achievements, but said that while it had not been ‘scrapped’ it was ‘on pause’. She added plans were on hold until David Cameron publishes his long-awaited childhood obesity strategy, expected in the New Year.
The scheme was launched in the first year of the coalition government by former health secretary Andrew Lansley, who said: ‘No government campaign or programme can force people to make healthy choices. We want to free business from the burden of regulation.’
But doctors and health campaigners immediately warned that effectively allowing junk food companies to write health rules would be a disaster. Although some progress has been made over the past five years, with better labelling, more ‘diet’ drink options and some firms offering smaller portion sizes, on the whole experts say it has not worked.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a London cardiologist and adviser to the National Obesity Forum, said last night the scheme ‘was a sham from its inception – the food industry should never have been allowed to have a say in matters related to public health and obesity’.
Professor Graham MacGregor, a cardiovascular physician at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, said the Responsibility Deal should be replaced with strict targets for food companies to reduce sugar, salt and fat. Andrew Opie, of the industry body the British Retail Consortium, insisted the Responsibility Deal had achieved some success, but admitted ‘we need mandated targets’.
The Department of Health said: ‘Under the Responsibility Deal we have seen over a billion units of alcohol removed from the market, billions of calories removed from food and drink, and reductions in salt that have been described as world leading.
‘Our national childhood obesity strategy will challenge industry to go even further. Industry has already made progress in encouraging healthier choices to become the norm, but there is more work to be done.’
A report from earlier this year about the links between Susan Jebb the chair of the above scheme and the sugar industry
A row has erupted about links between the sugar industry and scientists who advise government on obesity.
It claims Prof Susan Jebb - the government's obesity tsar, a University of Oxford academic and an expert in a recent three-part BBC documentary series on obesity - has attracted more than £1.3m of industry funding.
This includes money from Coca-Cola, Unilever and Cereal Partners