Beyond behaviour: changing foods as well as changing people

Winkler, Jack (2018) Beyond behaviour: changing foods as well as changing people. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 360. ISSN 1756-1833


Like many specialists in public health, Clarke focuses on “ways to change and sustain our individual behaviour.”

For dietary problems, this has meant 30 years of trying to get people all over the world - in poor countries as well as rich ones - to make “healthier choices.” That strategy has failed. The global obesity epidemic is the real world evidence.

Happily, the UK government has moved on. The key programme at the heart of its childhood obesity plan is the reformulation of nine categories of popular, mass market foods, to reduce their sugar content. This is a major strategic development: changing foods as well as changing people. Structural as well as behavioural change.

This strategy has numerous advantages. As Public Health England says, “These approaches to sugar reduction do not rely on individual behaviour change.” And reformulation benefits everyone, even those who resent the idea of healthy eating advice as the nanny state in extreme.

Not least of its advantages in these straitened times is that most of the cost of reformulation is paid by the food industry, not the public purse. When the government is so practical, public health specialists must recognise that nutritional improvement is possible without behavioural change.

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