Government should do more to promote healthy eating, researchers say

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The Dutch government is ignoring opportunities to encourage people to make healthy food choices and could make a start by banning all advertising for food targeting children which does not fit into health eating plans, say researchers at Wageningen and Utrecht universities.

Other options would include cutting or scrapping value added tax on fruit and veg, introducing a tax on sugar or banning fast food restaurants from setting up near schools, the researchers say.

The researchers point out that in 2018, almost 15% of the Dutch population were considered to be obese, compared with just 6% in 1990.

The research into government policy to promote healthy eating was undertaken as part of an EU joint policy evaluation programme. It focused on official strategy relating to the composition of food products, labelling, prizes, marketing and retail.

‘Overweight, obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases have risen dramatically in the past decennia, caused by changes in dietary and physical activity patterns,’ the researchers say.

‘The easy availability of energy-dense, fat- and sugar-rich, and ultra-processed foods is one of the key factors contributing to this public health problem. Government policies have the potential to improve these food environments, making a healthy choice easier.’

Last year, junior health minister Paul Blokhuis said the Netherlands will not introduce a tax on sugar in the near future because the effectiveness of such a measure has not yet been proven, and other agreements have been made with food firms on reducing sugar in soft drinks.

MPs are due to debate Blokhuis’s health eating strategy, which is based on convenants with industry, on Monday.

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