Friday, 12 November 2010

UK Department of Health on Regulating Nutrition

Updated on 5 December 2010

I received a reply to my further email to the Department of Health which I have appended to this post. In my email (which is also set out below), I suggested that the government make healthy foods cheaper than junk food as a method of improving the nation's health.  I used three types of yogurt to discuss the fact that even a so-called healthy option can range from healthy to junk.

The reply focuses on the law in relation to labelling foods and I have added a link to this legislation for ease of reference.  It is apparent that at this time the government does not intend to analysise foods on the market to determine which are the real healthy option and ensure that the price of same is lower than foods that should officially be classified as junk.

I do not place much faith in labels.  I partly explain this in my article about labelling fast food in the US.  But besides the limited amount of information provided in small print, different sized portions and even different nutrients are used between products making them hard to compare.

If we are to gain any momentum in restoring the health of the nation, the government needs to crack down on the junk foods that are continuing to proliferate in the market.  I've written a strong article about Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, expressing my dismay at this company moving into disease prevention in its new products.

The problem stems from corporate law.  Rather than going into partnership with corporations to improve public health with the Responsibility Deal, the government needs to put them in their place.  But maybe the government needs to be put in its place too?  As indicated in my article on the House of Lords discussion on these issues, there is much concern being expressed, especially about the obesity pandemic, but it is not filtering into effective action.

Thursday, 11 November, 2010 14:14
From: ""
To: J. Wilson
Message contains attachments: 2 Files (10KB)
Our ref: DE00000558448

Thank you for your email of 25 October about the debate in the House of Lords on 7 October on the role of regulation and guidance in improving nutritional outcomes for adults and children. I have been asked to reply.

I was interested in reading your blog on the debate, the details of which I have forwarded to policy officials so that they are aware of your views.

The Government is concerned about the rise is obesity levels and will be publishing a Public Health White Paper towards the end of the year. The Department wants people to know that they can change their lifestyle and make a difference to their health. To improve public health, the Department needs to find new ways of supporting people to change their behaviour.

The Secretary of State for Health has said that he wants the Government, businesses, charities, non-government organisations and local government to work together to improve the long-term health of the public by addressing the challenges to the nation’s health caused by poor diet and lack of exercise.

As you are aware, the Department is working with food companies as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. It wants to encourage industry to take action which will support and enable the public to make informed, balanced, healthy choices.

Yours sincerely,

Edward Corbett
Customer Service Centre
Department of Health
If you would like to view our performance against our quarterly service targets, please visit our website:-

Dear Mr Corbett

Thank you for your reply email letter. And thank you for forwarding my blog article to policy officials. With reference to your email, I would reply as follows.

I spoke to a young woman yesterday (11/11/10) who was working in the Peterborough City Library. She seemed like a reasonably educated person, relatively young and appeared to be in good health. I asked her if she was aware of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because I had some leaflets that I wanted to leave in the library for reference but was told by the manager that I could not do this. She said no that she had not heard about GMOs and she did not want a leaflet even though I had not offered her one. I then asked was she not interested in what was in her food. She said that if she knew, she might not want to eat it. She also said that her wage was low and she could not afford to be choosy.

I also spoke to my neighbours last week and found out that they shop in Asda because they can easily save £10 to £20 a shop compared to Tesco. They are a young couple, just married with a child on the way and both appear to be in good health. They both have good jobs. But not only do they shop for the cheapest food prices generally, they buy plain label store brand items to save further.

You say that the Department of Health wants to find new ways of supporting people to change their behaviour and I would say the answer to that one is simple. The Government should make healthy options cheaper and unhealthy options more expensive.

Besides the financing issue, the tricky part is deciding what a healthy option is, but much of it really isn’t rocket science. I would like to take this opportunity to compare 3 types of yogurt because it is generally perceived to be a healthy option. However, one is high in fat which to some means that it is unhealthy (although not to others such as me). The second option has high sugar content. And the third product, sold in Australia (and hopefully not coming to the UK) is not even real food but reconstituted bits of food with all kinds of additives and sugars.

1. Yeo Valley Organic Greek Style Natural Probiotic Yogurt contains only organic whole milk.

2. Nestlé’s Ski Apricot yogurt contains Low Fat Yogurt, Apricot 10%, Sugar, Rice Starch, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavouring, Thickener: Guar Gum, Lactic Cultures.

3. Nestle’s Peach Mango Diet Yogurt contains Skim Milk, water, Milk Solids, fruit 7%(Peach [4.5%], mango puree[2.5%]), gelatine, Fructose, Vegetable Gums (440,415,412), Flavours, Acidity Regulators(296,331), Sweeteners(950,951), Preservative(202), Mineral Salt(509), Natural Colour(160b), Enzyme (Lactase), Live Yogurt Cultures.

Because of the different recommended serving sizes for each, I provide the nutritional information for 100g for comparison purposes.

It is a popular theory that fat and calories are the most important things to reduce for a healthy diet, or indeed, to lose weight. But it is only a theory. Another theory is that certain fats are important nutrients. Also for some, protein and calcium are more important considerations for overall health than reducing fat. Nestlé’s Ski yogurt label does not even mention calcium.

Sugar is perhaps the clincher with this comparison study though. Sugar has no nutritional value and too much can quickly cause damage to health.

The whole milk yogurt serving (150g) has 11% sugars of the adult’s daily amount (100% from the natural lactose in the milk).

Nestlé’s Ski yogurt serving (120g pot) has 18% sugars of the adult’s daily amount (from lactose, fructose and added sugar).

And Nestlé’s diet yogurt serving (200g) pot has approximately 19.2% sugars of the adult’s daily amount (according to the online label) about half from added sugar).

Although Nestlé’s diet yogurt does not appear to be sold in the UK at the moment, it may in the future or something similar may be sold or is already being sold here and a further comment is therefore valid. On Nestlé’s website, the following is advertised:

NESTLÉ DIET yogurts are not only delicious, but good for you, being low in calories and having no fat. Deliciously smooth and creamy, NESTLÉ DIET yogurts have less than 1% added sugar and no more than 80 calories per 200g serve. They are also low GI, a great source of calcium...
Please note that Nestlé claims less than 1% added sugar but, as shown above, the label says otherwise.  Even if the label is a mistake, artificial sweeteners are possibly even more controversial than sugar for health.  It is also claimed that this yogurt is a great source of calcium, but meanwhile it has nearly two-thirds less calcium than whole milk yogurt.  This sort of advertising is unhelpful at best.

Analysing food the way I have done here is time consuming and tedious. Not everyone has the time to do it. But when the Department is engaging in work with food companies as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal, on behalf of the girl in the library and my neighbours, to name only a few, I hope that the Department is considering such details. From my research and experience, the organic whole milk yogurt is much healthier, even for an obese person, than the diet yogurt because it is better for overall health.

Since food companies may be causing the problem, it may be logical to look to them to fix it, but encouragement may not be sufficient. After analyzing the food products supplied by each company, the Department may wish to bring in the figures related to medical care, drugs and other costs such as loss of employability involved with obesity and other major illnesses which are at least partly caused by poor nutrition. Then weigh up these costs against the money and jobs being generated from the companies producing and promoting poor quality, unhealthy products. If the Department finds that the medical costs, etc outweigh the financial benefits from the company continuing business as usual, then it will be easy for the Department to make a move to regulate and sanction them. I believe you will find that the medical costs, etc already outweigh any perceived benefits provided by some food companies and retailers' products. Reducing medical costs, etc is what I would call looking after the golden goose. And a side effect is that the nation will be happier and more productive because it will be healthier. How good is that?

Yours sincerely

J. Wilson

PS Because of the public nature of this subject matter, I have taken this opportunity, for which I thank you, to create another blog article with your email and my reply.

Response to your Query : - Ref:DE00000565011 - Food regulation
Thursday, 2 December, 2010 15:04
From: "" Add sender to Contacts
To: J. Wilson

Thank you for your further email of 12 November about food regulation.

I was interested to read your comments on the nutritional information provided on different yogurts.

Legislation regarding nutrition labelling, including the manner in which it is presented, is harmonised across European Union Member States. Currently there is no requirement for mandatory nutrition labelling, unless a nutrition or health claim is made or vitamins or minerals have been voluntarily added to a food. However, the European Commission has made a proposal to strengthen legislation on food labelling and make nutritional information on most pre-packed foods mandatory, which the UK supports.

Nutrition and health claims can be made about foods as long as they are not false or misleading and there is compliance with the European Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. The Annex of this Regulation contains a list of permitted nutrition claims and provides specific conditions of use that a food must meet in order to bear such claims.

I will ensure that policy officials are made aware of your comments.

Yours sincerely,

Edward Corbett
Customer Service Centre
Department of Health