To try and combat the obesity epidemic the UK Government is in talks with supermarkets to end multibuy and buy-one-get-one-free deals on fatty foods and fizzy drinks. Caroline Lindsay asks: can we legislate against temptation?
Multibuys like buy-one-get-one-free and three for two are a staple of the weekly shop for millions of households across the country. But under Government proposals, big retailers and food companies may have to stop promoting fizzy drinks, confectionery and crisps and focus on “healthier” products in a bid to address the obesity crisis.
Lisa Holmes of Dietitian Scotland realises that temptation and cheapness are the key issues here. “People perceive these deals as good value for money and ‘getting something free’, which we like the idea of. Whether we need the product or not, and indeed buying in bulk to save money, are big incentives.
“The problem is that the multi deals are most commonly on products that are high in fat and sugar and so even more treats are available in the cupboards, and even if we are trying to resist, the fact that they are in the house means temptation takes over and we can’t resist eating these high-energy foods. Most of us know we should try to keep crisps, biscuits, fizzy drinks and so on to a minimum but when they are highlighted to us and made cheaper than normal, we are encouraged to buy in larger-than-needed quantities. If these foods were less aggressively marketed, it would be easier to walk past or if we do buy then limit our purchase to one rather than two or three.”
Lisa recommends making sure we have plenty of healthy options in the cupboards, like fruit and veg, yoghurts, oat cakes, being aware of portion sizes and upping our water consumption to feel fuller for longer.
It sounds practical enough but former development manager at Dundee health and well-being charity Positive Steps, Annice Macleod, feels the problem is more deep-rooted. “In this current economic climate I feel that we need to look at how difficult it is for parents to feed their children at all,” she said. “Many charities and churches are creating food banks simply so that parents can feed their kids over the school holidays.
“There needs to be the political willpower to ensure that healthy food is cheaper and more accessible. I can understand why parents buy fatty sugary foods if it is cheaper. Many parents in this country are missing meals so that their children don’t go hungry. I feel that is the most pressing crisis. Agricultural policies and subsidies should ensure that supermarkets can provide cheaper healthier foods.
“A more cohesive and concerted effort from politicians is required to ensure that families can afford to feed their families well.
“Poverty is the root cause of obesity, since families struggle to make the correct food choices.”
Minister’s wife Annice, who is a mum of three, has found that she can save up to a staggering £250 a month simply by cooking from her own recipes, a discovery very much endorsed by Fife’s Food Ambassador Christopher Trotter who passionately believes that the answer to obesity, and many other problems, lies in cooking as a family from scratch with local, seasonal ingredients, meaning that people can cook nutritiously on a low budget.
“Cooking is the cornerstone of civilisation,” he said.
“Many supermarket foods are nutritionally void and designed to fill you up and give you a quick fix, adding to the increasing problem of obesity.”
Beverley Black of Dundee Healthy Living Initiative has found that many of the people living within the area are aware of what constitutes a healthy diet but find it difficult to eat well on a low income.
“Cheaper convenience foods can be high in fat, salt and sugar and it might be difficult to buy fruit and veg locally that is guaranteed to be good quality and low cost at the same time. We offer courses, advice and workshops on a whole range of health and well-being issues, including healthy eating on a budget and low-fat cooking.”
While there are no immediate plans to ban multibuys, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Across the NHS we are supporting staff, patients and their families to eat a healthy diet. We give hospital caterers nutrition specifications for food for patients, while around 95% of all NHS food outlets have registered for the Healthyliving Award, ensuring that staff, patients and visitors have access to nutritious, healthy food.
“We have written to all NHS Boards asking them to ensure that healthier options are available from vending machines, by removing soft drinks with a high sugar content and positioning healthier choices more prominently. We are also working with the food manufacturers and retailers to develop a standard on responsible marketing of products high in sugar, salt and fat.”