Intended for healthcare professionals


Tackling the obesity epidemic

BMJ 2023; 381 doi: (Published 17 May 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p1072
  1. Claire Mulrenan, specialist registrar in public health1,
  2. Katharine Jenner, director2,
  3. Cécile Knai, professor of public health policy1 3
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Obesity Health Alliance, London, UK
  3. 3SPECTRUM Consortium, UK
  1. Correspondence to: C Mulrenan claire.mulrenan{at}

We need robust mechanisms to safeguard the independence of health policymaking

The Institute for Government report on tackling obesity1 highlights the failure of successive UK governments to treat obesity effectively as a population health problem. Though important, the message that obesity is on the rise, is not new.2345

Deserving of more attention is the report’s observation of a government tendency to prioritise voluntary action by industry over mandatory approaches to regulation, raising a critical question: why do policy makers and others assume that the food and soft drinks industries have a legitimate role in designing solutions to the obesity epidemic?

This assumption has allowed both industries access to relevant government policy makers, at the expense of the large scale, systems level change required for progress. Access is supported by dominant industry narratives, including that industry led voluntary approaches to regulation centred on public-private partnership are effective. Yet overwhelming evidence shows that these approaches do not deliver the changes urgently needed to improve and protect public health.6

The …

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