Policy Provocations: The UK’s obesity crisis


Professor Andrew Derrington introduces the panel for the first in the new series of Policy Provocations debates

A panel consisting of some of the UK’s leading food researchers, and a representative from the advertising industry, discussed the ongoing obesity crisis in the first of a new series of Policy Provocations debates.

More than 200 people attended  the event at University of Liverpool’s Leggate Theatre to hear from Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University, London; Professor John Wilding, Head of Obesity and Endocrinology at the University of Liverpool; Ian Twinn, Director of Public Affairs with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and Dr Susan Jebb, Head of Diet and Population Health with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Research Unit.

Chaired by Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Derrington, the first speaker was Professor John Wilding.

“Serious medical issue”

Professor Wilding witnesses the clinical outcome of obesity on a daily basis, in his position at Aintree University Hospital.

He described the situation as “not a cosmetic problem but a serious medical issue” and said he believed “the food industry has perhaps unwittingly helped create the problem we now have”.

He was followed by former Conservative MP, Ian Twinn, who launched a strong defence of the advertising industry. Ian Twinn compared other European countries subject to similar advertising but with varying levels of obesity among the population, before adding: “Advertisers do have a social responsibility but don’t bring politics to this debate.”

”We need help putting our good intentions into practice. The obesity rise over the last 20 years is not down to collective failure of willpower”

Professor Tim Lang described obesity as a result of the “success story of overproduction of food” following the war and rationing years, but said that now “energy is so cheap, there is no incentive to burn off the food. The normalisation of overweight is abnormal.” Professor Lang added that he believed the public need to move from “consumerism to food citizenship”.

Dr Susan Jebb was the last panellist to speak. The Head of Diet and Population Health at the MRC Human Research Unit expressed a need for “system wide change” and for attention to be focused on the “food environment” in which we all live. She said: “We need help putting our good intentions into practice. The obesity rise over the last 20 years is not down to collective failure of willpower.”

The chairman then went out to the floor for questions. A number of suggestions were mooted, from increasing the cost of processed food, to tackling poor eating habits in the workplace and the perceived success of the Government’s ‘Responsibility Deal’ with manufacturers.

Do global cities need a mayor?

The next Policy Provocations debate asks “Do global cities need a mayor?”, and features Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, as well as Professor Alan Harding from the University of Liverpool’s Heseltine Institute of Public Policy and Practice; Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities and Professor Patrick Le Galí¨s, Director of Research at the Centre for European Studies, Sciences-Po in Paris.

The event is free and takes place at Liverpool Town Hall, from 6pm, on Thursday June 20. For more information, or to book, visit: http://www.liv.ac.uk/events/policy-provocations/difference-a-mayor-makes.php

Follow @UoLProvocations to keep up with the series, and use #policyprov to join the debate.

Policy Provocations


One thought on “Policy Provocations: The UK’s obesity crisis

  1. Anne Dawson

    No co-incidence in my opinion that the obesity epidemic is due to the vilification of saturated fats and the significant reduction in consumption of it. Low fat, high carb diets make people fat and the food industry know it, yet continue to make billions tricking the public it is healthy.
    Just go back to eating the way your granny did and stop eating low fat food.
    Re the quote – “Energy is so cheap” – where?

Leave a comment