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Chapter 2 - Health in the consumer society

11. Many of the choices that affect our health are choices we make as consumers. The consultation generated a debate between producers, retailers, the marketing industry, the media, communities and individuals about how best to make choosing health an easier option for consumers.

12. People get information on health from many different sources including friends and family, product labelling, the media, and national campaigns. Chapter 2 sets out a modern strategy for health that includes action to stimulate both demand for healthier options - through information that people trust - and the availability of those options so that people can take up the choices they want to make.

Marketing health - we will work across government and with other organisations in the voluntary and independent sector, through a strategy to bring together messages that raise awareness of health risks with information about action that people can take themselves to improve their health - for example by changing their diet, taking more exercise or seeking advice through telephone help lines, local health improvement services or clinics. Action will be linked to activities in communities, schools and workplaces. The focus will be on:

  • sexual health - with a new national campaign targeted particularly at younger men and women to ensure that they understand the real risk of unprotected sex and to persuade them of the benefits of using condoms to avoid the risk of sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancies;
  • obesity - a new cross-government campaign to raise awareness of the health risks of obesity, and the steps people can take through diet and physical activity to prevent obesity;
  • smoking - a boosted campaign to reduce smoking rates and motivate smokers in different groups to quit supported by clear information about health risks, reasons not to smoke and access to NHS support to quit, including Stop Smoking Services and nicotine replacement therapy; and
  • alcohol - working with the Portman Group to cut down binge drinking.

Food labelling - the Government will work with the food industry to develop better information on the nutrition content of packaged food. Our goal is, by early 2006, for there to be:

  • a clear straightforward coding system
  • that is in common use
  • that busy people can understand at a glance which foods can make a positive contribution to a healthy diet, and which ar e recommended to be eaten only in moderation or sparingly.

Information for the public - we will commission a new service - Health Direct - to provide easily accessible and confidential information on health choices. Health Direct will be set up from 2007. It will include links to existing ser vices where they exist - for example, information on diet and nutrition (provided by the Food Standards Agency) and support for parents (provided by Sure Start and other agencies).

Information for the media - we will expand the existing programme of expert briefings provided by the Chief Medical Officer and support the development of an independent national centre for media and health.

13. Chapter 2 also sets out action to address inequalities in health that focuses particularly on getting information across to people in different groups and securing better access to healthier choices for people in disadvantaged groups or areas.

Tackling inequalities - we will help providers of local services to:

  • tailor information and advice to meet people's needs, and support staff to communicate complex health information to different groups in the population; and
  • provide practical support for people who lack basic skills to help them use health information, including signposting them to extra support through programmes such as Skilled for Health.

14. Where demand for healthier choices is increasing - for example following the national campaigns on 5 A DAY and on salt - industry is already responding. However, the Government has a role in taking the lead on issues where strong national and public concern about health indicates the need to do more to increase awareness of the benefits and supply of healthy options - in particular, maintaining a balance between exercise and a healthy diet.

Partnership with industry - the Government intends to discuss with the food industry how it might contribute to funding national campaigns and other national initiatives to promote positive health information and education.

Health Ministers and the Food Standards Agency are leading discussions with industry aimed at:

  • increasing the availability of healthier food, including reducing the levels of salt, added sugars and fat in prepared and processed food and drink, and increasing access to fruit and vegetables;
  • reversing the trend towards bigger portion sizes;
  • adopting consistent and clear standards for information on foods including signposting;
  • introducing long-term and interim targets for reducing sugar and fat levels in different categories of foods; and
  • developing guidance on portion sizes to reduce fat, sugar and salt intake.

Coordinated action - we will work with the farming and food industries to coordinate action through a Food and Health Action Plan to be published in early 2005.

15. Responses to the consultation indicated that while people felt it was generally right to leave lifestyle choices up to each individual, Chapter 2 sets out the steps that the Government will take to protect children and help them to make healthier choices about what food to eat, and about alcohol and smoking.

Food promotion to children - the Government is committed to securing, by 2007, a comprehensive and effective strategy for action to restrict the advertising and promotion to children of foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar covering through both broadcast and non-broadcast media, sponsorship, vending machines and packaging. 

Social responsibility scheme for alcohol - we will also work with industry to develop a voluntary social responsibility scheme for alcohol producers and retailers, to protect young people by:

  • placing information for the public on alcohol containers and in alcohol retail outlets;
  • including reminders about responsible drinking on alcohol advertisements; and
  • checking identification and refusing to sell alcohol to people who are under 18.

Restrictions on tobacco advertising - by the end of the year, the size of tobacco advertising still allowed in shops will be restricted, and in 2005 we will end internet advertising and brand-sharing.

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