Health Secretary Andrew Lansley Criticised Over Government Obesity Policy

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The government has been blamed for failing to tackle obesity problems | PA

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has been accused of a "dereliction of duty" in his efforts to tackle Britain's growing obesity problem by one of his former public health advisers.

Professor Simon Capewell, who served on Mr Lansley's Public Health Commission while in opposition, said the minister had "moved Britain back" in terms of public health since the general election two years ago.

He labelled the Government's Responsibility Deal as "a pantomime" and said the plan to work together with manufacturers to introduce voluntary cuts to fat, sugar and salt levels in food was like "putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank".

In an interview with The Independent, Prof Capewell, a member of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges committee on obesity, said: "Andrew Lansley, in my opinion, is guilty of a gross dereliction of duty in relation to public health.

"He has actually moved Britain back in terms of public health from where we were before he was elected.

"He has officiated over a responsibility deal which is a pantomime - and has been a huge public relations coup for the industry."

The Responsibility Deal, launched in March last year, encourages companies to voluntarily help to improve the health of the nation by labelling food in restaurants with calorie counts and reduce saturated fat, salt and sugar in products.

However consumer group Which? reported earlier this year that only a handful of the top 10 restaurants and pub groups had agreed to provide calorie information on menus.

In its report into the Responsibility Deal, the House of Commons Health Select Committee concluded it was "unconvinced" that it would be "effective in resolving issues such as obesity".

It called on the Department of Health (DoH) to set out clearly how progress will be monitored and tougher regulation applied if necessary.

Prof Capewell told the Independent: "Even a moment of reflection should show that this is a spectacular conflict of interest.

"It is breathtaking that when deciding on public health policy in relation to food you should be sitting around the table with the very people who make large amounts of money from selling this stuff."

But a DoH spokesman said: "In the last decade, Britain had some of the fastest rising obesity rates in Europe and successive attempts have failed to tackle them.

"The Responsibility Deal has delivered far more action, more quickly than before and more than could have been achieved through regulation in that time.

"We have shown real leadership, working in partnership with industry to find an approach that delivers results.

"We are seeing the results in our everyday lives - calories on menus in our high streets, less salt in the food we buy and artificial trans fats are being taken out of food. This is helping people around the country to live healthier lives."

The DoH pointed out that more than 70% of fast food and takeaway meals sold on the high street will have calories clearly labelled by the end of this year.

Every major supermarket chain has committed to removing artificial trans fats and promoting alcohol unit awareness in their stores, it added.

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