Tackling obesity

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Tom Sasse; Sophie Metcalfe

April 19, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at improving policy making on food and health.

This report reveals how every government since 1992 has missed targets to reduce obesity – with the UK’s rising obesity rates harming people’s health and life opportunities, burdening the NHS and damaging the economy. It exposes the reasons behind this policy failure – and sets out how to make progress. The report shows that tackling obesity has repeatedly suffered from ministers fearing the perception of nanny statism, despite there being strong public support for ambitious measures. Over three decades there have been at least 14 strategies, hundreds of policies, and a succession of institutional reforms, with key agencies and teams created and then abolished. Tackling obesity is not prioritised by the health department – which focuses overwhelmingly on the NHS – or other key departments, with the agenda suffering from an incoherent relationship between health and food policy, rapid turnover of ministers and officials, and a lack of expertise. This government has said it wants to reduce obesity and increase healthy life expectancy, but it has no serious plan to achieve that aim. A failure to grip the problem will result in higher taxes and spending, as well as increased regional inequality.