Prepared Foods December 12, 2005 e-newsletter

The emergence of "healthy junk" is not enough to tackle diet-related problems, a report our of the U.K. says.

Versions of old-style junk food with reduced fat, salt and sugar contents are increasingly popular with manufacturers and consumers. However, relying on "healthy junk" will not stamp out health problems such as obesity, the Food Ethics Council report warns.

Processed foods with reduced sugar, salt and fat are still not as healthy as fruit and vegetables, it says.

The Food Ethics Council describes "healthy junk" as the best solution that big food companies can offer while remaining competitive.

"Food companies are accountable first to their shareholders, not to the public," the report says.

"Although they need to be involved in overcoming the major public health challenges we currently face, because they sell so much of our food, we cannot expect them to focus on that."

Food Ethics Council executive director Dr. Tom MacMillan said, "It's clearly a good plan to cut levels of salt, sugar and harmful fats in processed foods.

"But 'healthy junk' will not solve everything. We also need to fight poverty, regulate food marketing and deal with all the other factors that make it hard for many people to eat a healthy diet."

The report criticizes the U.K. government's public health approach for putting too much emphasis on consumer choice.

The government has failed to bring in sufficient measures to help people on low-incomes who have the most diet-related ill health, the report says.

The Food Ethics Council also is calling for greater regulation of food marketing and improved catering in the public sector to improve the nation's health.

It also wants the Food Standards Agency's drive to publicize the maximum amount of salt people should eat to be followed by similar schemes for cutting fat and sugar.

"This would not mean making food less 'fun.' Many processed foods contain high levels of fats and sugars because they are cheap bulk ingredients and they make processing easier," the report says.

The report, “Getting Personal: Shifting Responsibilities for Dietary Health,” was launched at an event in London.

Responding to the survey, a Department of Health spokesman said the overnment was taking steps to tackle poor diet and health inequalities.

These include encouraging "five a day" consumption of fruit and vegetables and reducing salt, fat and sugar intake, plus giving free fruit at school.

The spokesperson said, "We are working with food manufacturers to restrict the promotion of unhealthy foods to children and to provide clear labeling on the nutritional content of food to make healthy eating choices easier.

"And a number of programs are targeting people living in disadvantaged communities to help tackle inequalities in health including health trainers, Healthy Start and Sure Start. They provide people with the help and support they need to make healthy nutritional and life choices."