Rough Seas in the United Kingdom


After years of tortuous debate the U.K. instituted a tax on soft drinks and some other sugary items that will finally go into effect a year from now. What they do in Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales is worthy of attention for more than one reason, and it seems almost impossible to catch up with the cascade of events in the Queen’s neck of the woods. In the United Kingdom, the ferment never stops.

Like the USA, it is an English-speaking realm, and shares many of our characteristics, values and concerns. Unlike the USA, they are still thinking about obesity, and especially child obesity. Over here, we have way too much else going on. Since former First Lady Michelle Obama vacated the White House overweight children are far down the priority list.

For, Matt Crossman wrote a piece suggesting that investors might take a second look at the deadly risk posed by sugar and rethink their holdings in food and drink corporations. Crossman also found occasion to mention the U.K.

Enumerating the things that could actually hurt manufacturers, his words evoke the sensation of walls closing in. Science is catching up with the true threat posed by sugar; consumers and public health professionals are getting smarter; and the burden of cost to treat obesity-related disease increases every day.

Worst of all, the risk of litigation looms ever larger. Crossman says:

The UK is in the midst of a shift in consumer behaviour when it comes to eating “well,” with sugar intake at the very front of people’s minds. But beyond notoriously fickle consumer tastes there is a growing awareness of the massive cost burden imposed on healthcare services by poor diets.

He also observed that the U.K. government’s strategy to combat childhood obesity was greeted with a lack of enthusiasm, and is widely considered to be a dud. The long-awaited “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” was published in August of 2016 to resounding disappointment in many quarters.

Childhood Obesity News noted that when the report came out doctors took to the pages of the British Medical Journal to express their chagrin at how the original 50-page draft, that had seemed to hold the promise of actual change, had shrunk to 10 toothless pages.

Obesity researcher Dr. Zoe Harcombe pounced on it, finding something objectionable before the body of the report even started:

Disappointingly, the introduction then moved straight to the classic misrepresentation of obesity “obesity is caused by an energy imbalance: taking in more energy through food than we use through activity.” Worse, it then played beautifully into the big food companies’ hands by emphasising the activity part of the “eat less do more” erroneous message…

The 14-point action plan did not fare much better in her esteem. The first part addressed the upcoming soft drinks levy, or tax, with language that started out weak and seemed vulnerable to further enfeeblement before the law could even be passed. Part 3 was titled “Supporting innovation to help businesses to make their products healthier,” and talked about encouraging science and technology and industry to “create” healthier products.

To which Harcombe sarcastically replied:

We won’t even mention real food in this entire report, or encourage consumption of real food. Instead we’ll support the invention of fake food in laboratories. You couldn’t make this up.

But wait, it gets worse. She characterized Point 4 as “moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The deadly risk of sugar: It’s time investors reassessed food and drinks companies,”, 03/15/17
Source: “UK Childhood Obesity ‘Strategy’,”, 08/22/16
Photo credit: sammydavisdog via Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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