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Up to 40,000 a year killed by junk food, says health watchdog


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Up to 40,000 a year killed by junk food, says health watchdog



By Daniel Martin

Last updated at 9:13 AM on 22nd June 2010




Food companies should be paid by the state to produce healthy foods and help save tens of thousands of lives, the Government’s health watchdog said yesterday.

Farmers could be given cash incentives to grow fruit and vegetables rather than producing fatty meats.

And supermarkets could get tax breaks to stock healthy foods at affordable prices.



article-1288477-0A237F1A000005DC-563_468x373.jpg Choice: We should be encouraged to choose healthy options in stores, NICE said


The National Institute for Clinical Excellence – whose main role is to ration NHS drugs – has demanded wholesale changes to the way food is produced and consumed in the UK.

They say that if manufacturers reduced the amount of salt and saturated fat in their food, some 40,000 lives a year could be saved.

In its guidance on reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease, it also calls

on companies and public institutions – such as hospitals and universities – to scrap subsidised car parking to encourage people to walk or cycle to work.

The food industry attacked the guidance last night and ministers said much of it was impractical.

Critics also said it was far beyond NICE’s remit.

NICE’s document calls on ministers to enter into talks with food manufacturers to persuade them to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their products.

If no progress is made, they should be compelled to do so by law.

The makers of processed food and takeaways should be encouraged to eliminate dangerous ‘trans fats’, which have been declared toxic by the World Health Organisation.

NICE says the moves will help Britain reduce average salt intake to 6g per day per adult by 2015 and reduce saturated fat levels to those seen in Italy and Japan. Overall, if trans fats are virtually eliminated, around 40,000 lives a year could be saved.




The guidance calls on government to ensure that ‘low salt products and low saturated fat foods are sold more cheaply than their higher content equivalents’. At present, healthy foods are likely to be cost more than unhealthy foods.

NICE says ministers should consider legislation and ‘fiscal levers’ if necessary to bring this about. Legislation could involve setting minimum levels of salt and fat to which all manufacturers must adhere.

Fiscal levers could include following the example of Finland, which has moved from being the heart attack capital of the western world in the 1970s to one of the healthiest. This was done, in part, by paying farmers to move away from dairy and towards growing healthy berries.

Another way would be to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, which currently pays farmers to produce unhealthy milk and meat.

The system could be reformed to incentivise fruit, vegetables and wholegrain.

Paul Lincoln, who helped draw up the guidance and is chief executive of the National Heart Forum, also said tax breaks for supermarkets could be brought in to bring down the price of healthy foods.

Julian Hunt, of the Food and Drink Federation, said: ‘We are surprised that NICE has found the time and the money to develop guidance that seems to be out of touch with the reality of what has been happening for many years.

‘The food industry is leading the world when it comes to voluntarily changing the recipes of popular food brands so that they are lower in salt, fat or sugar.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health said it would not be taking forward NICE’s recommendation to force manufacturers to put traffic light labels on their products, denoting how much salt, sugar and fat they contain.

‘It is not practical to implement certain proposals in this guidance,’ he added.

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