Jackson highlighted three roles the British government plays in preventing obesity: exercising leadership, creating a coalition for change, and offering delivery and support programs. (Because health and social policy are dealt with in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland separately, the discussion was focused on England.)
The Foresight report (see Box 2-1 in Chapter 2) provides what Jackson termed “our platform” for action. It presents clear information that cannot be ignored about the severity of the problem at both the societal and individual levels if current trends continue. Based on these findings, in January 2008 the British government adopted the Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy to reverse the rising tide of obesity and overweight in the population. Children are the initial focus, with an investment of £372 (approximately $600 million) being made over 3 years. Government leaders at all levels, from the Prime Minister down, have acknowledged obesity as a major national challenge, raising the profile of the problem, especially among children, as one that merits national attention.
The evidence is not conclusive on the best ways to fight obesity; many strategies, such as increased breastfeeding, increased physical activity, and more informative food labeling, may all play a role. Based on the Foresight report, the Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy reflects the need to take a systematic and cross-cutting approach (see Box 3-1).
Jackson said the second broad role for the British government has involved creating a coalition for change to achieve society-wide improvements. A cross-government obesity unit—the Coalition for Better Health—reports jointly to the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools, and Families. It works not only with these departments but also with other agencies related to environment, planning, transport, and other salient areas. Childhood obesity is now a priority within the government’s Public Service Agreements (a set of government-wide goals for a 3-year period).
Beyond the national government, a coalition to fight obesity should encompass businesses, the third sector (nonprofits and other civic organizations), and the wider public. The Coalition for Better Health works with these groups, most notably on a society-wide campaign called Change4Life (described more fully in Chapter 6). In addition, an expert working group