ADDRESSING OBESITY AND HELPING OUR CUSTOMERS MAKE HEALTHIER CHOICES
M&S has had a dedicated health strategy in place for over ten years focused on supporting our customers to make healthier product and dietary choices. We are continuing to deliver the strategy through innovative healthy food product ranges (e.g. Count on Us, Balanced for You), as well as appropriate product labelling, reformulation and targeted customer communication.
Our work on children’s food forms a fundamental part of this. Our aim is to help children develop positive eating habits for the future and we offer a range of foods designed specifically for the nutritional needs of children. We are also proud of our partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, funding ground breaking new research into children's gut disorders and helping children with nutrition and allergy related conditions.
That is why we welcome last week’s publication of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy, which we see as a positive step forward in providing a clear policy framework for action.
The one thing that reassured me most when I read the report was that the strategy goes beyond food. For example, it outlines other programmes that are essential to address childhood obesity such as encouraging children to be more physically active, a focus on tackling obesity in schools and support for families all of which are designed to establish the right behaviours from an early age.
I believe that if these initiatives are delivered, we will be well set up for success in the future. It is also pleasing to see that the Government have set aside funding to encourage industry to innovate in developing healthier food products, something which we continue to do at M&S, most recently through the launch of our Vitamin D bread range.
However, I was slightly surprised that the food section in the strategy was focused on sugar reformulation and not overall calorie reduction. It is true that children are eating too much free sugar and need to consume less in order to achieve the new dietary recommendation of 5% energy. However, obesity goes beyond a single nutrient, and whilst the causes may be complex, the science is simple in that obesity is the result of an imbalance of calories in versus calories out. Therefore, we will be focusing our reformulation efforts on portion size control and overall calorie reduction which we believe will help to reduce other nutrients of concern to public health such as saturated fat.
The is no single effective measure for tackling obesity and with a third of children aged 2-15 now either overweight or obese, all stakeholders must play their part, from the food industry to schools as well as Health professionals and parents. In publishing the Childhood Obesity Strategy, the Government has shown it recognises it has a role to play too, and we look forward to engaging with the Department of Health and Public Health England in the coming months to make our own contribution to this important agenda.