Chris Brook-Carter

Fat fight

By: Chris Brook-Carter - 1 December 2003 13:16

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So executives from some of the UK’s biggest food and soft drinks companies, including PepsiCo, have defended their products to a committee of MPs investigating rising obesity levels.

The tone of the rhetoric reflected the gravity of the accusations being laid against them and the seriousness of the suggested penalties if they are found guilty, which include a ban on advertising and health warnings on their products.

"I don't think there's any correlation between confectionery consumption and obesity," Andrew Cosslett, Cadbury Schweppes’ managing director for confectionery in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said at the cross-party Select Health Committee Thursday. Many of the executives were keen to blame unhealthy lifestyles for the obesity problem, rather than individual products.

Earlier in the month a spokesman for Coca-Cola in the UK called most of the proposals being put forward by the Food Standards Agency “ludicrous”.

"We believe we are very responsible already in our marketing campaigns. We don't target under-12s in our advertising and the marketing for our products for two- to five-year-olds is aimed at parents," he said.

Certainly the proposals are draconian and should they become law constitute a dangerous step towards the nanny state. Blaming the soft drinks and food industries for the rise in obesity is an easy scapegoat for a government that has presided over a dramatic fall in sport and exercise in schools and clearly failed in its responsibilities to educate on the importance of a healthy diet.
 
However, it also continues the growth in blame culture that grips us in every walk of life from crime to alcohol misuse, where anyone or anything but the individual is responsible for his or her actions - or in this case the actions of his or her children. Until we can shift the perceived responsibility for the health of our children back to the parents, it is hard to see how diets and obesity levels will improve.

All that said, the food and drink industries are doing little to help themselves. The worrying fact for them is that when Cadbury says we “don't think there's any correlation between confectionery consumption and obesity,” nobody actually believes them.

The finger of blame is pointing in their direction and the tone of the consumer press reflects this at present. The current strategy seems to be "the best form of defense is attack". However, a more humble approach coupled with conciliatory rhetoric about the need for a joint solution is more advisable if the industry is not to ruffle more feathers and
increase the risk of legislation.

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