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New Anti-Obesity Proposals Offer Food Discounts for Exercise

NHS England is trialling anti-obesity initiatives that include rewarding exercise with supermarket vouchers and giving away free bikes.
Photo via Flickr user Rachel.

Over the last few years, anti-obesity strategies in the UK have focused on reducing sugar content in processed foods, banning junk food ads, and taxing sugary drinks. And ICYMI, so far, people aren't convinced that the measures will work. Health campaigners have criticised the Government for not introducing legislation that forces food companies to cut sugar and branded plans to limit junk food marketing as watered down.

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In a new bid to tackle the nation's expanding waistline, NHS England yesterday revealed a set of proposals aimed at changing lifestyle habits long term.

The "Healthy New Towns" scheme includes initiatives like setting up community kitchens to deliver healthy food to local schools and the elderly, and offering supermarket discounts to families who meet exercise targets—tracked using a smartphone app. Developers of new houses and flats will also be required to provide free bikes to residents to encourage cycling.

The new scheme comes after recent NHS figures revealed that 58 percent of women and 68 percent of men in the UK are classed as obese or overweight, and a quarter engage in fewer than 30 minutes of exercise a week.

Currently on trial in ten towns across England, the Healthy New Towns scheme is being welcomed by some health campaigners, including Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum.

Fry told MUNCHIES: "Advice has been given to people about living healthily and they haven't listened. I think we've got to the point now where the cost of obesity is so great that the Government and the NHS have to think outside the box and think of ideas which might improve the situation. I particularly like the free bicycles and free vouchers for fruit and veg. What we have got to do is entice people into doing things, no longer can we just give them advice."

He continued: "It'll be one element of the master plan started last year and included the sugar levy and reformulation of products. I hope it will be part of a general trend which will build on a public who are starting to become more savvy about health. It's going to take time for results to show, it's not going to happen overnight."

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But not everyone is convinced by NHS England's new proposals. Martin Caraher, professor in food and health policy at the University of London's Centre for Food Policy, told us that the Healthy New Towns scheme must go hand in hand with tougher policies on the food industry.

Caraher commented: "There is some evidence that paying people for healthy behaviours does have an impact and I'm not against that. But it needs to be part of a package of proposals, not just that on its own. I think people should be able to cook but to put that on communities, in the long term, is not sustainable. People learn these new skills but then are limited by their income or what resources they have at home."

He thinks that more should be done by the Government: "The scheme shifts responsibility back to the communities whereas I think there's more of a parliamentary response needed here, like a minimum statutory standard for the reformulation of productions, breakfast clubs, and school meals."

Whether the Government is ready to step up to the plate, however, is another question. Earlier this year, the Tories scrapped their manifesto pledge to deliver free school breakfasts and last week announced that the plan to reduce calories in junk food would operate on a voluntary basis.

It seems we may have a long way to go before healthy lifestyle changes become widespread.