Opinion: Hot issue - Should dietary health groups campaign as one?

Last week Paul Lincoln, chief executive of the National Heart Forum, said voluntary groups with a stake in the nutrition debate needed to speak with a more cohesive voice if they hoped to tackle the obesity crisis in the UK.

YES - ANN ROSSITER, DIRECTOR, SOCIAL MARKET FOUNDATION

By campaigning as one, dietary health groups can more easily communicate a coherent and unambiguous message to the public. Forming such a message is essential if we are serious about tackling health inequalities in the UK and improving the dietary health of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The Government's white paper on public health proposes an enhanced role for the voluntary sector in tackling these health inequalities and promoting better dietary health.

In order for voluntary sector bodies to take advantage of this enhanced role and work effectively with business and the public sector, it is essential that they work together as one.

Dietary health is a very broad concept covering a range of issues - this can mean the public is bombarded with mixed and often contradictory information regarding what they should and shouldn't be eating.

The Social Market Foundation hosted a lunch at the Labour Party's spring conference on Friday, which brought together key stakeholders in the debate on how the public and voluntary sectors can best work together to improve dietary health and share best practice.

YES - DOUGLAS SMALLWOOD, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, DIABETES UK

There is obviously enormous scope for much more joint working, so you have to ask why it doesn't happen in a much bigger way.

It needs to become an integral part of how we all get things done. Over the years, Diabetes UK has worked with a number of organisations to take forward shared objectives on a variety of health issues, including public health areas.

One such issue is combating obesity. We feel strongly that children should not be exposed to unhealthy messages. Other organisations also feel that banning junk food advertising to children will help to combat childhood obesity and stem the continual rise of diabetes. This is why we are one of 160 organisations supporting Sustain's campaign calling for legislation to ban junk food advertising to children.The Children's Food Bill, which has been sponsored by Mary Creagh MP, has been tabled for Friday 16 June.

We fully recognise that charities need to maintain their own voices.

There are unique aspects to every condition but, as we have found, joint campaigning can be very effective where these objectives coincide.

YES - GRAHAM VIDLER, HEAD OF POLICY, WHICH?

The UK is in a diet and health crisis, with around a quarter of the population now obese. Yet consumers still face too many barriers that make it hard for them to eat more healthily.

Last week's launch by five major companies of their own labelling formats, in place of the forthcoming Food Standards Agency-approved scheme, shows industry is beginning to see the benefits of working as one.

If the format they have chosen is not the one that is most helpful to consumers, it is sadly industry that will reap most of the benefits from this joint initiative. However, competing schemes can also create more confusion for consumers.

Individually, NGOs are successfully raising awareness of the multi-faceted issues that need to be addressed to reverse the diet and health crisis.

But collectively, we are increasingly seeing the benefits of joining voices to maximise the impetus for change.

NO - DAVID HASLAM, CLINICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL OBESITY FORUM

We should not all speak with the same voice. Each charity or organisation has a unique perspective, otherwise it would not need to exist - and it is this unique element that forces each of them to give different views to those offered by their fellow groups.

On some vital matters, different groups may reach a consensus and should speak powerfully with one voice. In matters of science and fact, contradictions will occur, but the evidence will decide in favour of one or other viewpoint.

One group might, for instance, say that food advertising to children should be banned, and another might favour working with the food industry to self-regulate; both will have evidence to back them up and both ideas have merit.

The National Obesity Forum believes that prevention and management of obesity are inseparable and of equal priority. Others disagree and see prevention as paramount.

The forum agrees that prevention is vital but recognises that this is being widely dealt with by other bodies, from government down. Prevention and management in clinical situations, however, is not.

In an ideal world, messages should be different but complementary, and a spirit of healthy debate will prevail.

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