- Jacqui Wise
The UK government has quietly disbanded its expert advisory group on obesity in a move seen by some as a way to silence independent critical voices.
The expert group was set up by the previous Labour government to advise on the evidence that emerged from the “Tackling Obesities: Future Choices” project of Foresight, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The expert group then went on to support the development and delivery of the “Healthy weight, healthy lives” strategy and public health programmes such as Change4Life, which aimed, with support from the Department of Health for England, to encourage people to lead healthier lives.
Members of the group were unpaid. The closure has happened quietly and with no publicity.
Geof Rayner, a member of the advisory group and honorary research fellow at the Centre for Food Policy at City University, London, told the BMJ that he believes that ministers don’t want advisers whose ideas do not fit theirs. He said, “They don’t want to hear critical independent advice. They only want advisers who agree with their way of thinking.”
Dr Rayner said he believed that the Department of Health had been upset about an article he had written in the BMJ in April that criticised the government’s endorsement of “nudge” thinking as a strategy to tackle obesity (BMJ 2011;342:d2177, doi:10.1136/bmj.d2177). The head to head article, written with a fellow advisory group member, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, said that “nudge is a smokescreen for, at best, inaction and, …