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Obese people could be offered vouchers or cash to lose weight under plans being examined by the Government. It is one of a raft of measures being put forward to tackle Britain's growing weight problem.
Today's Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy set out the role of the workplace in encouraging people to stay healthy. And it said the Government wanted to "build up" its knowledge of the interventions that work in getting people to change their behaviour. The report said: "We will provide resources to pilot and evaluate a range of different approaches to encouraging healthy living.
"For example we will look at using financial incentives, such as payments, vouchers and other rewards, to encourage individuals to lose weight and sustain that weight loss, to eat more healthily, or to be consistently more physically active." The report pointed to evidence from the US which showed that small financial payments, as part of a broader programme, had "proven particularly effective in incentivising individuals to both achieve and maintain weight loss".
The Government also announced plans to encourage major food firms to adopt a single system of nutritional labelling. Health Secretary Alan Johnson will unveil a strategy aimed at ensuring shoppers get clear advice about the amount of fat, salt and sugar in their food. A single system of nutritional labelling will give shoppers clear advice about the amount of fat, salt and sugar in their food
At present, three different systems are being used for products on the UK's supermarket shelves. Around 20,000 food and drink items carry one system showing guideline daily amounts of key nutrients.
More than 50 firms, including Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, PepsiCo, Morrisons and Tesco, have introduced these labels on everything from ready meals to chocolate bars.
They have all rejected the traffic light colour-coding system recommended by the official food watchdog. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) wants red, amber and green colours on all products to indicate the levels of fat, salt and sugar contained in processed foods.
As of earlier this month, eight retailers, 16 manufacturers and four service providers were using these traffic light labels on products. The third and final system uses a mixture of guideline daily amounts and traffic light colours. Today, Mr Johnson will announce the need for a "single, simple and effective approach to food labelling used by the whole food industry".
The government may offer cash incentives to encourage obese people to lose weight
He will say many manufacturers and retailers have made "important strides" towards improving labelling, but will argue that busy parents and consumers find the multiple systems confusing. The Government has asked the FSA to set up an independent panel of experts who will complete an evaluation of the three main labelling systems currently in use. Representatives from industry and consumer organisations are sitting on the panel, which will recommend a single system later this year.
The Government believes it will be very difficult for any retailer or manufacturer to go against the recommendations of the independent panel seeing as the industry is backing the review. Mr Johnson will say: "We know that clear, simple front of pack labelling helps consumers make healthier choices and make a positive contribution to a healthy diet which is essential if we are to turn the tide on rising levels of obesity. "That is why I am determined that we must see the adoption of a single labelling system based on the best available evidence.
"This year, the Food Standards Agency, with the cooperation of the major retailers and producers, has commissioned an independent evaluation of existing food labelling schemes. "It will look carefully at the evidence, at customer preferences and effectiveness in changing behaviour, and it will make recommendations about the best system to support us in making healthy choices.
"Once that evaluation is complete, I want to see our major producers and retailers agree with the Food Standards Agency on a single labelling system, easy to understand and best able to support all of us in making informed, healthy choices about the food we eat.
"This is a real change which will put the consumer first in our efforts to improve health and tackle obesity." The cross-government obesity strategy being published today also includes plans to increase access to cycling and create new "healthy towns". Yesterday, Schools Secretary Ed Balls announced that teenagers will be given compulsory cooking lessons at school for the first time. He wants all pupils to know how to make a healthy meal. Two-thirds of adults and a third of children in the UK are currently either overweight or obese.
Without action, the Government predicts this could rise to almost nine in 10 adults and two thirds of children by 2050. Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease. Mr Johnson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that obesity was "probably the biggest public health threat that we face". He said he wanted to proceed in consultation with the industry, but warned that compulsion could be used if companies do not move voluntarily to a better labelling system. "There could be regulation down the track," said Mr Johnson. "There is regulation already in advertising food that is high in salt, fat and sugar to children."
Mr Johnson added: "In this country we are probably ahead of the world in food labelling. Our retailers and our food manufacturers have looked at this in a very clear way and said 'Our consumers do want information'. "The problem is there are three systems. We are saying we want to work with the industry and have an independent review by experts to see which of these three systems is the most effective. Then we hope that we can convince the industry to go for one system."
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley told Today: "The Government, unfortunately, went for a very simplistic traffic light system in 2004 that was never going to command support with the industry or with retailers. "Back then, I argued for something that combined guidance about things like fats, sugars and salts with guideline daily amounts. "If we are going to achieve a consensus in this country which we can then try to drive through on a Europe-wide basis, the thing we are going to need is combined traffic light and guideline daily amounts to help people construct their diets.
"If there is a consensus across the political parties, I think we are much more likely to be able to win through both with manufacturers and retailers and in Europe for a clear, consistent labelling system." http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=509867&in_page_id=1770