A new survey looking at Wales' food environment suggests there is huge support for the Welsh Government to intervene with "meal deal culture". The survey asked whether people think Government should intervene and place taxes on high sugar foods, and make healthy foods like fruit and vegetables cheaper in order to tackle the obesity crisis.
Dr Ilona Johnson, consultant at Public Health Wales, said measures like this would aim to tackle Wales' Obesity problem which is having a growing strain on the NHS. The survey which was done by PHW asked 1,007 Welsh residents over the age of 16 what they thought about Government intervention to take action on obesity.
It found that 57% of people think that the Government should use financial tools like taxes on foods with high levels of sugar and 83% of people think the Government should use financial tools to make fruit and vegetables cheaper.
In Wales, around 60% of adults are overweight or obese. There is growing concern about the number of children who are obese or overweight too, with around a third of children now overweight or obese by the time they are five years old. For more health stories like this straight to your inbox, sign up to our health newsletter here.
Dr Johnson said childhood obesity is particularly worrying as children aren't choosing the food that they eat, however she highlighted that it is often out of parent's control, and it is the food environment that we are in that needs tackling, with measures presented in the survey as being possible solutions.
The survey touched upon meal deal offers, which draft proposals put out for consultation by the Welsh Government would have had the effect of banning. The survey found that when relating to children's meal deal offers, 81% said that healthy drink options, such as water or milk should be the default option for children.
Dr Johnson said that it is often difficult to know what the healthy option for children is, as packaging can often be confusing if something is labelled as "no added sugar". She said: "Things like smoothies, and those sorts of products, have a lot more sugar in them than a lot of people think."
Dr Johnson highlighted that the impact obesity is having on people's health in Wales is staggering, with a 40% increase in people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes between the years 2010 and 2021.
She added: “Obesity is a very serious problem in Wales, putting our people at increased risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease or stroke, affecting our health and wellbeing. We know that people want to be a healthy weight, but feel that their environment is working against them, making healthy choices more difficult. We need to make it easier to make healthy choices.
“The good news from this survey is that people in Wales want change - and they want governments to drive that change. The survey shows a clear majority in favour of action on using financial levers, customer information, and advertising restrictions to improve the food environment. Obesity policies have often focussed on individual responsibility. However we know from the evidence that policies targeting the food environment are effective, and this survey tells us that people in Wales feel we should be making those changes.”
Other key findings from the survey include:
- 58% think restaurants should be required to give information on the calorie content of foods so that people can make an informed choice when eating out.
- 63% agree that takeaways should be required to give information on the calorie content of foods so that people can make an informed choice when ordering
- 83% say that governments should use financial tools to reduce the price of healthier foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
- 82% say governments should apply age restrictions for buying food and drinks that are labelled as not suitable for children.
84% of people say they intend to take action within the next 12 months to achieve or maintain a healthy weight - but 34% say that too many temptations might stop them from taking the action.
- Planning laws should be used to restrict the number of fast-food restaurants near schools (63 per cent agree), and to restrict the number of unhealthy food takeaways and shops near schools (60 per cent agree).
Dave said: “A lot of the guys struggle to eat healthier options because they don’t get signposted to them. Nine times out of ten, the biggest factor in trying to lose weight is struggling with the stuff that’s pushed and marketed at them.”
Dave said the issue has directly affected him. “You walk in somewhere, and the first thing you see is ‘get this for a cheap price’. The unhealthy option is the first thing you grab when you’re in a rush, and you take it back to eat it at your desk at work. You end up consuming far more calories that you usually would.
“I’ll stop for a coffee on the way into work, and pick up a sandwich, crisps, maybe a bit of chocolate,” said Dave. “It’s definitely a ‘meal deal culture’, with unhealthy options being the easiest to get hold of, and the best value for the price. People don’t realise they can get a healthier option because it’s less convenient to find.”