Scientists attack killer junk food in our shops

We could save over 3000 deaths a month by passing a law to make everyday foods healthier, say scientists. But the government says what we eat should be a free choice.

A “vast and silent killer” is at large. More than 40,000 Britons are dying unnecessarily every year because of high levels of salt and fat in their diets, the Government’s public health watchdog The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has warned.
Salt is particular danger. The average person in Britain consumes more than eight grams of salt a day. The body only requires one gram to function. Nice says children should consume considerably less salt than adults and that, because the bulk of salt in their diets comes from prepared food such as bread, cereal, soups, meat and cheese products, manufacturers have a significant role to play in reducing it.
Nice also called for a total ban on trans fats – the artificially made unsaturated fats that are used in most fast foods. It also called for laws to ensure low fat and low salt foods are cheaper than unhealthier versions; forcing local councils to move take-aways and junk food outlets further from schools; and bringing in a simple traffic light colour-coding system to show whether a product has high, low or medium levels of salt, fat and sugar.
High levels of salt and fat cause heart disease which is responsible for at least 150,000 deaths a year, mostly through heart attacks and strokes.

About 40% of those who die are under 75. Poorer people in particular have up to a threefold increased risk of heart disease.

Individual choice

No-one seriously disputes the science behind this. But there is a big divide over what we should do about it. The government says it is up to the individual to make healthy choices and that we are all grown up enough to make our own decisions. The food industry, which would loose millions in profit if the Nice recommendations were carried out, argues that there have already been many voluntary health improvements in common foods.
Others argue that it is part of government’s job to create an environment that makes healthy choices easy. When people have a lot to do they don’t have time to research everything they buy. There should be laws to make good choices more obvious. And cheaper. Government gets involved with speed limits and clean air – why not the most important health factor of all – the food we eat?

You Decide

  1. Imagine a week eating only fresh food, vegetables, meat and home cooked meals. Would that be nicer or nastier that your normal diet?
  2. If you had to choose for the rest of your life between chips and fruit, which would you choose? What would your reasons be?
  3. If something is good for us, should there be a law that encourages us to consume it? Or should it be down to free choice?

Activities

  1. Write a list of what you have eaten in the past 24 hours. Compare your list with others in your group and discuss the quality of your diet. Are there ways in which you can eat more healthily?

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