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Voluntary pledges are working for UK health

14 September 2012 by
Voluntary pledges are working for UK health

I've just returned from our (Eurest) staff dining room juggling a plateful of "wellbeing" tuna bake and a fistful of literature offering guidance on how to improve my health.

A fluids leaflet emphasises the importance of hydration. A physical activity hand-out extols the benefits of breaking into a sweat occasionally. There's even a guide to the nutritional value of the ingredient of the week, the blackberry.

Whether I act on any of this advice is, of course, my decision. At least Eurest has led this horse to water.

Since the Department of Health challenged food service operators, food manufacturers and brewers to sign up to a range of pledges aimed at improving the country's wellbeing last September, many such positive steps have been taken towards making us a healthier nation - and saving the NHS a fortune. The companies responsible for feeding and watering us are improving our diets, a grain of salt and a drop of trans fat at a time.

No one could have expected to see the nation's health transformed just 12 months on from the unveiling of such a long-term strategy. Deep-rooted habits take a long time to change, and consumers will not stomach substantial changes to the flavour profiles of their favourite meals being introduced overnight - even if it's for their own good.

Nevertheless, we are witnessing the beginnings of a sea-change. Of all the facts quoted in this week's appraisal of the Responsibility Deal, perhaps the most telling is that the number of partners signed up to it has more than doubled in the year since implementation.

Many household names have yet to come on board; but customer demand will ensure they do so, in time.

Given this progress, incoming Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt would be ill-advised to consider scrapping his predecessor's voluntary pledges in favour of a more Draconian interventionism.

By Mark Lewis

E-mail your comments to Mark Lewis here.

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