GPs urge get tough as obesity strategy ‘a failure’

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DOCTORS have launched a wide-ranging review of ways to tackle the nation’s obesity problem amid claims the latest Government strategy has failed to address the population’s increasing weight issues.

Yesterday the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC), which represents nearly every doctor in the country, announced what it called an “unprecendented” campaign to tackle obesity in the face of Government failure.

Responding to the call, GPs in Yorkshire said Ministers needed to be tougher, and urged the Government to consider higher taxes on unhealthy, fattening foods.

Dr Richard Vautrey, a Leeds GP and vice-chairman of the GPs committee on the British Medical Association, said the Academy’s call would only work if Ministers took it seriously.

“Obesity is a big and increasing problem and one of the major concerns all doctors now have is that the various policies of the governments of both shades simply have not worked.

“We are not seeing sufficient emphasis being placed on tackling the food industry and the situation in which it is cheaper to buy what doctors call obesogenic foods than fresh products.”

Dr Vautrey said higher taxes on certain foods could help and added: “We have to consider that and look at the evidence. It has worked with smoking, I don’t think anybody would argue with that.

“If increasing pricing reduces consumption it is one way of tackling the problem. We need to find ways to encourage people to eat fresh products and move away from processed foods.”

The AoMRC yesterday attacked the decision to allow firms like McDonalds and Coca Cola to sponsor Olympic events saying it “sent the wrong message”, and Dr Vautrey said the BMA agreed.

“Marlboro sponsoring the Olympic 100m would not be acceptable, so why is it acceptable that multinational food companies that predominately sell unhealthy foods are sponsoring Olympic events?

“It is a simple message – eat a bit less and move a bit more. The major problem is that people are surrounded by the alternative message funded by big business.

“A tiny amount of money is spent on the health message while vast amounts are invested in encouraging people to eat more often, and eat larger portions.

“This move by the medical profession will only work if the Government takes it seriously. One of the concerns the BMA has is that there are too many vested interests.”

Last year, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley launched the Government’s Obesity Call to Action, which included a so-called Responsibility Deal with food companies and supermarkets that has so far seen seventeen firms, including supermarkets, food manufacturers and food outlets, sign up to a new “calorie reduction pledge”.

He rejected calls from health experts for clearer labelling on foods and specific targets, saying he was not in favour of regulating the food industry.

Professor Terence Stephenson, vice-chairman of the AoMRC said: “It is unprecedented that the medical royal colleges and faculties have come together on such a high-profile public health issue. We’ve done so because we recognise the huge crisis waiting to happen and believe that current strategies to reduce obesity are failing to have a significant impact.”

The Department of Health spokesman said: “The call from the Academy of Royal Colleges follows our obesity Call to Action last year, from which we are already seeing results. The Academy clearly shares our view that the need for action is urgent.”