Government obesity strategy, what do dietitians and nuritionists think?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Oct 22, 02:17 PM in . Comments [6].

Obesity Crisis

Well, Jamie Oliver says “it’s a cop out” and opinions are strong with regards to the new UK government’s obesity strategy- “call to action on obesity” – released 13th October.

But what are Dietitians and Nutritionists saying?

Comments from dietitians and nutritionists on twitter seem to agree.

Emma Carder RD asks “does it go far enough?” while Jillian Pitt (RNut) calls it “Woefully inadequate”. Charlie Proctor RD tweets: “obesity strategy needed to be different & innovative- lacked anything special. Not sure the bottom up approach will work”.

On the suggestion that we need to “eat less and exercise more”, Fiona Nave RD tweets “Not such a helpful suggestion – if only it was as easy said as done.” while Andrew Wilson RD says “eat less, exercise more says Government on obesity. Well that’s very helpful, thank you”.

More on what Dietitians and Nutritionists have to say

Here is a collection of some of the more detailed comments Dietitians and Nutritionists have been making about the strategy:

Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed

“Really I think it is madness. Nothing is new and there are no ACTIONS which is exactly what we need. Simply TELLING people what to eat has not and is not working. We need solutions and policies in place to combat this problem and until someone in government steps up to challenge this head on…there is going to be no improvements. “

From Dietitian Priya Tew

“Although it’s fine on the one hand to say that people need to take responsibility for their weight and levels of activity, my experience as a dietitian and a fitness instructor suggests people need help and support to do this. The internet is full of information on how to lose weight, but much of it can be incorrect and confusing. Credible, easily accessible support and advice needs to be available at a local level. It seems support groups can work well, where people are accountable to each other, there is some nutrition eduction, discussion around exercise and a weigh-in. Perhaps the government could help more support groups be set up, using nutrition experts such as dietitian’s who work with fitness expert to empower groups of people. Left on their own people aren’t going to mane change, they would have already done so if that were the case”

From Dietitian Emma Carder

“Yesterday with the launch of the Governments latest Obesity Strategy my thoughts were taken back to 1994 when I was a student dietitian training in Camden & Islingtons Community Dietetic Department. I remember the dept buzz at the time, and it was centered around The Health Of The Nation White Paper which had been published 2 years previously in 1992 by the Conservative Government. This quote below is worth a read…

BMJ 1992: The Health of the Nation: Sieze the Opportunity
John Gabbay Prof In Public Health

“Will the governments white paper ‘The Health of the Nation’ turn out to be the most important measure for improving the health of the English people since the birth of the NHS.Following strong leads from The World Health Organisation it sets out an ambitious programme for shifting the focus of the health service from sickness to health.

Target setting is becoming an increasingly popular way of improving the population’s health. This remarkable turnaround is a huge step forward for Britain’s health policy.

Success will require great effort, resources, and cooperation among professionals unused to working together in the requisite alliances. The conviction with which the government and the NHS Management Executive are planning to implement the white paper is therefore welcome. Despite the many obstacles on the long haul ahead it would be a tragedy if the initiative failed.”

This could sadly be said for yesterday’s strategy some 20 years later. I personally would have to question whether we truely know the best approaches to take and whether all the relevant parties will genuinely working together to help reduce UK obesity rates for the long term.

I will watch the progress on The Responsibilty Deal & The Obesity Strategy with great interest”

From Dietitian Louise Pen-Collings

“The Obesity Strategy 2011 states that we need a ‘new direction’ in the way we tackle the obesity epidemic. However, I fail to see how this is being addressed in the government proposals. Although it is fair to say that people should take more responsibility for what they eat, simply stating that we need to ‘be honest with ourselves’ is a little short sighted. I would have liked to have seen a little more depth in the document, with more emphasis on how issues such as health-inequalities are going to be addressed. We all know that there is a link between socio-economic group and health outcomes; however the strategy fails to show how measures to address this problem will be implemented.”

From Dietitian Diane Reidlinger

“The Department of Health’s ‘call to action’ does seem more like a ‘sit-back-and-watch-more-of-the-same’ approach. It lacks leadership and fails to address the more ‘downstream’ reasons why people are overweight and obese. Buzz words and short term campaigns are not a long term solution, neither is a narrow focus on reducing calories (or single nutrients such as fat or sugar) in food products the answer. Whilst I don’t support a ‘fat tax’, I do believe that the current food environment – where consumers are bombarded with promotions for an ever-increasing range of processed food products – is a big part of the problem. As a result, many people truly believe that packaged and pre-prepared products are cheaper, faster to prepare and as good / better for them than fresh foods that are prepared at home. Messages about a basic eating pattern based on fresh or minimally processed foods that counter these beliefs are desperately needed. To underpin these messages we also need the infrastructure to make it easier for people to take them up.

It’s not clear how our government will support equitable access to nutritious food and basic equipment for food storage and preparation, or address barriers to better food choices that extend beyond voluntary schemes for food outlets and the food manufacturing industry. These businesses are not the enemy but should be part of a solution that calls for genuine partnership working and leadership from our government that cuts across many different sectors, not just food industry and health. Think housing , curriculum (schools, higher and further education), transport, urban design, agriculture and support for local primary producers. Sadly the government’s response falls far short of this”

My Impression? (Anne Myers-Wright RD)

I’ve just read the 54 page document and , although there are some very nice ideas in the document, the thing I was constantly asking myself whilst reading was:

“But How?”.

The paper aims to achieve the nations “ambitions” for the management of the obesity epidemic. These ambitions are :

  • a sustained downward trend in the level of excess weight in children by 2020
  • a downward trend in the level of excess weight averaged across all adults by 2020.

These are fine ambitions, but how are we going to achieve these?

The paper suggests that we all have a role to play and that responsibilities lie with all of society. A “top down” approach to the problem when considering education and support is rejected in favour of a community involvement and empowerment through local ownership approach. In fact the paper goes to great lengths to make sure we are clear that the government will be “there” but will be favouring a “hands off” approach.

The general ideas for the strategy include:

Putting individuals at the heart of the new approach

The public has been urged to be honest and take responsibility for its own obesity problem. The public have been urged to “eat less and exercise more” and to “be honest” about their lifestyles. The government says it will help by providing clear and accessible information through change 4 life (£14 million has been promised to the campaign), child weighing programmes and making “changes to the environment” that address the wider determinants of obesity (how I wonder?)

Giving partners the best possible opportunity to play their part

There will be increased engagement with physical activity providers, the food and drink industry and employers; who will be encouraged to support workers in diet and activity initiatives. Some programmes have been cited and the paper suggests the government wont be interfering by telling professionals how to do their jobs in these matters. Bariatric surgery will continue to be funded in the NHS budget.

Improving the evidence base

There will be investment in research to look at the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of current and new programmes.

So then…what does it come down to?

It seems the governments obesity strategy is a lot of talk and a lot of “stepping back and seeing how we all sort it out” but is it enough? Do we need something with a little more direction?

Please let me know your views below. Do you agree with our nutrition professionals?

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


  1. Changing people’s behaviours is incredibly difficult especially when it’s not clear what’s in it for them. How can you persuade people to take the healthy option when in many cases, this is perceived to be more expensive…

  2. As a workingparent my biggest problem is finding time to exercise. I walk wherever I can but that is pretty much eat. My day is so packed that my only choice would be to exercise right after my evening meal – not a good idea!

  3. We are disappointed by this call to action and think it passes the buck. We’ve done a blog explaining our views at

  4. I hope that the DoH will take serious account of the good work that is already being done to help people slim through group support and lifestyle help, whether it is in the public or private sector. And I wish that they would stop playing the blame game by saying people need to be honest about what they eat and drink. It’s just not as simple as that as other commenters have said. I’ve written about it today on DiabetesChoices.

  5. Good to read these comments. Also blogging about this..

    Really, I think the whole problem of obesity goes way beyond issues of diet and nutrition. The whole individualism of the policy fails to consider access to food, and what underlies the choices people make…

  6. Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this site needs
    far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to see more, thanks for the information!

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