An unusual rally is taking place outside the entrance to Number 10 Downing Street, the home of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It was scheduled by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. “Eton Mess”, a British dessert made from berries, meringue and cream, should be brought to the participants. The dessert has its origins in the noble boarding school Eton, where Johnson also spent some school years.
Homemade or from the supermarket, “bring your Eton Mess here, neat, no fuss, no shouting, to show support that the government needs to take the child obesity strategy seriously,” encourages Oliver.
For years he has been campaigning for a healthy diet, primarily for children. His pressure has led, among other things, to significant improvements in the nutritional value of school meals.
Oliver’s action is directed against a U-turn by the government in its fight against obesity in the country. Johnson’s cabinet had presented a catalog of measures that it said should lead to the world’s toughest restrictions on advertising junk food. But by early May, most of those proposals were delayed by at least a year.
Indeed, action against too many pounds on British cars is urgently needed. A recent study by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), a not-for-profit research organisation, concludes that the proportion of overweight people in the country will increase from 64% today to 71% by 2040.
More than a third of all adults, 36 percent, will then suffer from obesity. By 2030 there will likely be more extremely obese people in England than people of normal weight.
“This forecast should be a wake-up call for the government on the state of the nation’s health,” said CRUK chief Michelle Mitchell. Those affected have a significantly increased risk of at least 13 types of cancer.
On average, 22,800 cases of cancer can be traced back to significantly increased weight each year. Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are also regular consequences of being overweight.
Unhealthy high body weight has direct consequences for the state-funded health service NHS. In 2019, one million hospital admissions in England were related to obesity, up 17 per cent on the previous year.
According to experts, the problem has worsened since the pandemic. And back in 2014, obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS £6.1 billion (€7.2 billion) directly.
Obesity is an issue in all western industrial nations. There are many reasons, but poor diet and lack of exercise play an important role.
Within Europe, however, Great Britain is particularly affected. 27.8 percent of the population is extremely overweight, according to current data from the World Health Organization. Only in Turkey and Malta is the percentage of obese even higher. For comparison: in Germany the value is 22.3 percent.
In the UK, poorer households have been disproportionately affected. The investigation shows clear differences depending on the prosperity of a region, said CRUK boss Mitchell, these would continue to increase.
Three years ago, 35 percent of people in socially disadvantaged regions were obese. Their share is likely to increase to almost half by 2040. In wealthy regions of the country it was 22 percent, here the scientists expect only a slight increase.
The problem starts early. A third of British schoolchildren were overweight in 2016. Scientists point out that the proportion has increased significantly again due to the Covid pandemic.
Children and young people had a particular focus on the planned legal regulations. Among other things, there were plans to ban advertising for foods with a high proportion of fat, salt or sugar. They should only be allowed to run on television after 9 p.m., and they should also be significantly restricted online.
These product groups with low nutritional value should no longer be offered in a double pack at a special price – buy one, get one free. They should be placed less prominently in supermarkets.
The introduction has now been postponed by at least a year. William Hague, former leader of the Conservative Party, denounced the move as “morally reprehensible”. Activists like Oliver fear the measures could be off the table altogether.
Officially, the government justifies the significant pressure on the cost of living due to high inflation. It is not the right moment to ban offers.
However, when preparing the legislative initiative, the government itself pointed out that these two-pack offers are not good deals. On average, they would result in consumers spending around a fifth more, partly because they would be tempted to buy more than they need to. Products without a high fat, salt and sugar content would also not be affected by the restrictions.
But within the conservative party there had been resistance to the measures from the start. They are considered by many to be “unconservative”, as paternalism towards the citizens.
There was also considerable pressure from food manufacturers. The US manufacturer Kellogg’s filed a lawsuit in April because its products would have been affected by the restrictions.
Oliver hasn’t given up hope of another turnaround. After all, the children’s health is at stake. But it is also about making Great Britain fairer by starting young people with comparable health. And without too many desserts, whether “Eton Mess” or others.
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