Cutting the Fat

Yes, it’s Budget Day today but I felt the analysis is better suited to a discussion after the announcements have been made rather than trying to second-guess them although we can say without any doubt that cuts are the order of the day.

On the barest of connections (cutting excesses – yes, I know it’s a VERY tenuous link!), I was interested in this story in the Guardian today , which reports on a study from NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) which attacks the food industry for some of the contents of processed foods and how it affects general health of the population as well as suggesting some actions that should be taken.

The suggestions included banning trans-fats, bringing in tighter controls on fast food outlets which are placed close to school and ensuring that lower fat, lower salt are cheaper than unhealthier options.

The government is quoted as saying that it is an individual decision as to food consumption which is a fair point however the choices are very often stifled by cost. It is cheaper to eat processed foods. Not everyone has the same opportunity of access to some of the cheaper supermarkets and suppliers. As long as the programme of rolling out free school meals has been stalled, there is a public health issue regarding the types of foods that are available.

Public policy seems, in my mind, to have always been doing pretty badly on preventative work, possibly because there are less tangible measurable ‘targets’ to achieve by someone not getting diabetes in the first place or never taking up smoking or not falling because they were provided with strong support or not accessing mental health services because lower level supports were available.

I’m not necessarily ‘anti-targets’ but  having worked within systems where targets are paramount and linked extrinsically to funding, some are positively ridiculous and not even remotely connected to standards and levels of care.

The obsession with targets though has added extra layers of bureaucracy and certainly in social work, which, to be frank, is the area in which my knowledge base generally lies, has taken away some professional competency and expertise away from the day to day job in the interests of meeting, sometimes spurious targets.

But back to the NICE report – it makes sense. It’s something that has been known in public health circles for a while but processed is cheaper and that’s the real issue that needs to be tackled. If the government are happy to tax alcohol and cigarettes on the basis of the more general costs attached to providing healthcare for those who choose in this way, then why not subsidise and promote healthy food choices and tax higher fat foods…

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As they say, food for thought.