Sunday, 16 October 2011

The 'Do Nothing' Health Strategy

This week we had a great example of what I'd call "you're free to die in a ditch if you so choose" Conservatism. The government launched its own obesity strategy and came out with this groundbreaking policy proposal: eat less.

That's it. The public just need to be more "honest with themselves about what they're eating and drinking," so said Professor Sally Davies, the country's chief medical officer, who's clearly swallowed this bilge hook, line, and sinker.

No more interfering, bossy, 'nanny state,' as Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, and his Conservative colleagues like to decry. Instead he spoke of the limitations of government action alone, preferring partnership over legislation.

A partnership with councils, and of course the food industry, is what's supposed to work in tackling the more than 60% of adults and over a quarter of primary school children who are now classified as either overweight or obese.

This comes off the back of a report by one of the world's leading medical journals, The Lancet, which said that governments weren't doing enough to tackle obesity. It speaks of the increased cost to the UK in terms of rises in diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, if the government continues to sit back and be satisfied with merely having voluntary agreements in place, as opposed to direct action.

Voluntary agreements with the food and drinks lobby that is, and a so-called 'nudge' approach to the public; steering them in the right direction about what they should be eating and drinking. The behaviour of a government paranoid of doing anything which could be misconstrued as nannying.

But, these (in)actions don't work.

And such an approach has been rejected by The Lancet and the House of Lords, whose report this summer argued that the government's strategy was neither successful nor based on scientific evidence. This included failures to implement a system of food labelling and a restriction on junk food advertising during childrens' TV programmes.

Instead we have a "public health responsibility deal" and a government cosying up to the food and drinks giants.

I read, flabbergasted, at a story last year which revealed that fast-food companies such as McDonald's and PepsiCo were helping the government in drawing up its public health policy, involved on issues such as obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease.

Yes, eating and drinking your crap is helping to cause these things!

On what planet could anyone think that these people have any wish to see people to consume less of their stuff? These are the kind of strategies that are going to be lambasted time and again by report after report, as the nation gets fatter and more unhealthy.

The Department for Health already calculates that the direct costs of obesity stand at £4.2bn, predicted to double by 2050. Indirectly, when taking into account social and economic factors (e.g. sick days off work or support in benefits), this figure rises to £16bn, expected to reach £50bn, with no action taken.

Short term: do very little, make friends with big business, avoid accusations of nannying by the right wing press. Long term: pay far, far more in health costs, then complain about budget deficits to the NHS, cut its funding.

More Conservative ideology governing public policy.

An edited version of this article was published by Liberal Conspiracy on Friday 21 October 2011


  1. Totally agree. Are we going to see a post from you on the NHS reforms in general? Would love to read that. NHS is a great idea that will always be a black hole for money but surely a better idea still than most other nations, especially America. Surely the introduction of more private companies will only improve their bottom line, rather than services. After all, MRSA only appeared in hospitals when private companies took over cleaning from matrons. Health, like education, suffers from the Thatcherite/Blairite illusion of choice. People don't want choice, they just want good local schools and hospitals. The idea of competition between them seems pretty horrific.

  2. I'm sure there will be at some point. It's a complicated one. So many reasons and so much evidence why the proposed reforms are so wrong.