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Posted Jul 05 2010 9:24am

The National Institute for clinical excellence – NICE – has recommended major changes round convenience & processed food.

NICE – The UK’s leading health watchdog - has challenged both the government & the food industry to take action to improve the nation’s health through diet, saying that this should no longer just be a matter for the individual consumer. In producing its report, the focus for the NICE committee – which spent two years considering the content of the report - was viewed as safeguarding the population, rather than advising the individual who may have limited options.

Klim McPherson - professor of health epidemiology at Oxford University and chairman of the NICE committee – said, “It is about busy people having a lot to do, having to make choices on the fly, making pragmatic choices on how they feed themselves and their children. Commercial organisations are very good at exploiting people who make choices on price and convenience.”

Some of the changes recommended by the report were:

• A total ban on trans fats.

• Halving the individual daily salt intake.

• Legislating if necessary to encourage manufacturers to slash the content of hidden saturated fats in all food products.

• Ensuring low fat and low salt foods are cheaper than unhealthier versions.

• Banning television adverts for high-salt and high-fat foods before the 9pm watershed, to protect children.

• Urging local councils to forbid take-aways and junk food outlets near schools.

• Bringing in the “traffic light” colour coding system to show whether a product has high, low or medium levels of salt, fat and sugar. The committee noted the regrettable decision by the EU not to support the system & urged the government to implement it via legislation.

The report met with a less than enthusiastic response from the government who claimed it was up to the individual to make healthy choices. The Food & Drink Federation claimed that the voluntary measures already taken by the industry had had a significant impact on the consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, salt & sugar.

The report was, however, supported, by the European Society of Cardiology and the British Heart Foundation. There are at least 150,000 deaths a year from cardiovascular disease, the majority through heart attack & stroke. According to Klim McPherson, “These are eminently preventable deaths.”

Simon Capewell, - professor of clinical epidemiology at Liverpool University and a public health physician - said that the changes would make economic sense too, including for example, fewer people having to give up work to be a carer. “We’re looking at well over £1bn a year in savings, not just to the NHS.”

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