Lansley’s health reforms mean nothing

Andrew Lansley meets Birmingham nurses to discuss obesity issues. Image:  University Hospitals Birmingham via Flickr

Andrew Lansley meets Birmingham nurses to discuss obesity issues. Image: University Hospitals Birmingham via Flickr

Domino’s to your door. Curry just a click away. McDonalds on your mobile. With the proliferation of fast food chains, ever increasing convenience of takeaways and a culture leaning ever more towards an entirely sedentary lifestyle, it can hardly come as a surprise that obesity plagues modern society. Nevertheless, I find the latest figures shocking; two thirds of adults and one third of children in the UK are classed as overweight or obese, costing the NHS an estimated £4.2 billion per year. If current trends continue, by 2050 only one in ten adults in the UK will be a healthy weight. The obesity epidemic has arrived.

This being the case, I’d expected Andrew Lansley’s latest proposals to combat obesity to be inspired, revolutionary, to signify the beginning of what I am certain will be a lengthy and arduous journey to improve the nation’s health. At the very least, I thought he’d include some kind of concrete plan to initiate change. Sadly, I was disappointed.

The proposals epitomise useless politics: Lansley makes persuasive, grandiose statements and outlines impressive sounding goals without offering any real suggestions as to how they might be achieved. Yes, Andrew, the need to “reverse and halt the tide of obesity” is quite apparent, but how do you plan to make it happen?

The focus of the proposals is Lansley’s goal of reducing the nation’s calorie intake by 5 billion per day – a fairly blatant attempt to draw attention away from his lack of ideas through dramatic statement. On closer inspection this goal is useless; yes, this figure might be the equivalent of 16.9 million cheeseburgers or 28.4 million lattes, but how does this relate to the general population? Indiscriminately asking people to cut their daily diet by about a third of a slice of Efes is not going to solve the health problems this country faces; such alterations need to be made on an individual basis. By generalising to such an extreme, Lansley has rendered his proposal effectively worthless. It is clear that he has opted for impressive figures and headline-grabbing taglines rather than sensible, practicable suggestions.

Lansley also announced that the food and drink industry should “extend and intensify their efforts to help people make healthier choices”. The food industry certainly holds much responsibility for our country’s obesity problem, and it should play an essential part in tackling the issue. However, predictably, Lansley has avoided taking any real action in this area. Instead of proposing legislation which would force the corporations which control our food and drink industry to reduce the fat and sugar content of their products, Lansley has invited them to do so voluntarily. What motivation do such companies have to make any change whatsoever? If Lansley was serious about making change, his proposals would include introducing laws designed to force companies to lower their food’s calorie content. As it stands, this is another completely empty proposal – and one that clarifies, for those that were not already sure, that our government prioritises appeasing multinational corporations over the health of the population.

As if these huge flaws in Lansley’s proposals were not enough, he has the audacity to include the importance of continued investment in the Change4Life scheme founded by the Labour government. It seems to have slipped his mind that in 2011-2012 the project’s budget has been cut from £25 million to £14 million, a far cry from Labour’s proposed £75 million budget. This alone portrays the chasm between the “call of action” Lansley promises, and what the department is actually prepared to undertake.

Lansley speaks of a “new approach” to help people “get and keep a healthy weight throughout their lives”. It has been clear for a long time that change is necessary; but Lansley’s proposals will get us no closer to tackling the country’s issues. He has quoted figures, reiterated obvious facts and made insincere claims, and it is this kind of governmental attitude that will keep obesity on the increase.

In the short term, concrete legislation should be drafted to restrict the fat of sugar content of the products in our food and drink market, individuals should be given clear direction as to what changes they can and should personally make, and projects such as Change4Life should be fully supported. In the long term, the government need to recognise that the country’s obesity problem is one that stems from our cultural and social foundation; and until healthy eating and exercise are incorporated into our environment, real change cannot and will not occur. Lansley certainly needs to consider the issue with a little more creativity and realism, if he wants to make any improvement whatsoever on the health of our nation.

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