Dieters ‘thwarted by constant promotions of unhealthy food’

The report finds it is not about ‘willpower’ when it comes to battling obesity.

Catherine Lough
Monday 27 December 2021 23:43
The review found that weight loss for those on low incomes was especially difficult (Philip Toscano/PA)
The review found that weight loss for those on low incomes was especially difficult (Philip Toscano/PA)

People struggling to battle obesity are being “thwarted” by Britain’s unhealthy food culture, a study has found.

The study, from the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, carried out for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) obesity policy research unit, found that even those “trying really hard” to lose weight find their efforts frustrated by a barrage of advertising for unhealthy food.

The review, shared exclusively with The Guardian found that the availability of unhealthy foods at all hours of the day makes it difficult for millions to shed pounds, with “constant exposure” to both unhealthy food and advertising for snacks high in fat, salt and sugar derailing their efforts.

Even people trying really hard are thwarted in their efforts by unhealthy food options that are everywhere - they’re easy to find, cheap to buy, quick and appealing

Kimberley Neve, lead author

Kimberley Neve, the lead author of the study, said: “This review highlights not only how difficult it is to lose weight in Britain, and keep it off, but also that it’s not just about willpower or self-control: even people trying really hard are thwarted in their efforts by unhealthy food options that are everywhere – they’re easy to find, cheap to buy, quick and appealing.”

The review found that weight loss for those on low incomes was especially difficult, with unhealthy food promoted more through special offers in shops and supermarkets.

It warned that without further action, the UK’s plans to tackle obesity will fail.

The review urges the Government to accept seven policy recommendations, including introducing discounts on fruit and vegetables, encouraging business to provide healthier options in the workplace for their staff and incentivising fast food outlets to sell healthier options.

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said there had been similar attempts to reform Britain’s food environment a decade ago.

He said: “The Government’s responsibility deal launched in 2011 was an attempt to tackle all the issues around HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) food and was accepted by food companies as long as it was free from regulation.

“The Government declined to legislate and the deal unravelled. The researchers’ demands must now be mandated – no ifs and no buts.”

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