Recession May Hamper Obesity Fight

March 11/London/Press Association Newsfile -- Efforts to combat obesity could be undermined by the recession, according to the findings of a survey which showed nearly one in four people are making healthier eating less of a priority in the wake of the financial crisis.

A total of 24% of U.K. adults in a poll said healthier eating was less important to them in view of the downturn, with more than half (56%) saying price has become a more important factor when choosing food since the crisis began.

The Which? (a U.K. watchdog group) survey of 2,102 adults in the U.K., who were interviewed face-to-face in January, coincides with the publication of "Hungry for Change?," a report by the consumer watchdog examining progress on promoting healthier eating in the last five years.

The document revealed that more than three-quarters of those polled (76%) thought the government needed to take action to make choosing healthier options easier.

Consumers also want more action from manufacturers, retailers and caterers to help people make healthier choices with only one in three people saying they thought restaurants, cafes and pubs made healthy choices easy.

The report said it welcomed positive initiatives such as salt restrictions and improvements in the quality of school meals.

However, it said "significant problems" remained, ranging from "confusing" health and nutrition claims on products packed with salt, sugar or fat, to poor-quality hospital food.

Sue Davies, Which? chief policy adviser, said, "People want to make healthier choices, but it's not easy. As the credit crunch bites, it's important that Government and industry aren't distracted. They can't be allowed to put the fight against obesity on hold.

"We want to see a dramatic increase in the pace of action in all areas, so barriers to healthy eating can be removed and people can at last put their good intentions into practise."

Which? has made a series of demands including more fat, salt and sugar reductions and offering smaller portion sizes in restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and other outlets.

The watchdog has also called for price promotions to increase healthy eating, with more action to ensure products making health claims are really healthy. The organization called for better labelling and information for consumers with a single, simple front-of-pack labelling scheme.

Which? has issued tips to consumers on helping to keep eating healthily during the recession. These include buying food in season; planning meals ahead to avoid expensive impulse buys, cooking from scratch rather than using processed foods, as well as making double amounts and freezing the extra.

The latest figures on obesity show that, in 2007, 24% of adults in England were classed as obese, with a body mass index of 30 or more, with men and women equally likely to be overweight.

From the March 16, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition