Feature Public Health

Is the UK turning the clock back on public health advances?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6691 (Published 23 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6691
  1. Jacqui Wise, freelance journalist, London
  1. jacquiyoung1{at}gmail.com

With the white paper on public health due out any day now Jacqui Wise asks whether the coalition government’s anti-regulation, pro-industry approach is ill judged

The coalition government in the UK stands accused of allowing the food and drink industry to dictate public health policy. This follows the revelation that the newly formed committees charged with “creating a new vision for public health” are packed with industry representatives from companies such as McDonalds, PepsiCo, and Kellogg’s.

A number of other moves have also been made. Since coming to power in May the government has dropped the traffic light food labelling scheme, rejected minimum pricing of alcohol, and refused to honour the Labour government’s pledge to extend free school meals to all children living below the poverty line. The coalition has also suggested that it may overturn the ban on cigarette vending machines and point of sale advertising of tobacco, which was due to come into force starting next year.

Many of the announcements made by health secretary Andrew Lansley have been positively received. He has announced there will be a new Public Health Service with a ringfenced budget. In addition there will be a cabinet subcommittee on public health. The role of local government in improving public health will be strengthened.

But aside from the rhetoric the signals coming out of Whitehall might not look good to public health professionals. The recent “bonfire of the quangos” led to the loss of the Health Protection Agency, the independent body giving advice on public health matters. The Food Standards Agency has been radically reorganised so that it is a shadow of its former self, having lost responsibility for nutritional policy and food labelling.

The FSA led calls for the Europe-wide introduction of a traffic light system that required food companies to label …

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