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The government obesity plan: What does it mean for your business?

What does the obesity plan mean for the retail and hospitality sectors, and for those looking for opportunities within the health and wellbeing sector?

The government’s new plan to tackle obesity aims to save the NHS over £105 million over the next three years.

The plan has come in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, in which it has come to light that overweight people are more at risk of becoming severely ill with the disease. 

As part of the plan, the government has put forward seven steps that will help the population make better decisions around diet, exercise, and managing weight gain. But what do the steps mean for businesses? 

We take a look at the changes that shops, restaurants, and food-based product businesses are going to have to make

We also take a look at some of the business opportunities that could arise from the government’s new focus.


What does the obesity plan mean for hospitality business owners?

According to the obesity paper, food portions that we purchase at out-of-home eating establishments have twice as many calories as the shop equivalent. 

As a result, the government wants to ensure that customers are completely aware of the nutritional value of any items they order. This means hospitality businesses with over 250 employees will need to clearly display calories on food items, counters, and menus

This move isn’t mandatory for smaller hospitality businesses yet, however the government has asked them to make a voluntary move to be more transparent about the nutritional information of the food products they sell. 

The government is keen to measure the effectiveness of the step with larger hospitality businesses, and may choose to make the displaying of calories mandatory for smaller businesses in the future. 

Drinking establishments aren’t in the clear, either. As alcoholic drinks are typically high in calories, the government is planning on consulting with industry bodies to look at ways in which pubs and restaurants can display calories on draught beers and ciders.


What does the obesity plan mean for food product owners?

The optional nutritional traffic light system on the front of food and drink products came into force in 2013. 

Now, after seven years, the government will conduct a review of the system to ensure nutritional information is as accessible and easy to understand as possible. 

It’s not just the traffic light system that’s being looked into. The government is also looking to introduce tighter controls on labeling and marketing for HFSS (foods high in fat and salt and/or sugar) products. 

At the moment, this includes banning the showing of HFSS food adverts before 9pm. It also wants to ban unhealthy food promotions online, with both of these motions coming into effect by the end of 2022

In addition to this, the government is looking at ways it can enforce product owners to further reduce salt, sugar, and calories in products

It’s also consulting industry bodies to ensure more honest packaging and labelling on infant foods and prepackaged alcohol.


What does the obesity plan mean for shop owners?

Step four of the government’s seven step obesity plan looks into how businesses can empower people to make the right food choices

Knowing that psychology has a large impact on the choices we make, shop owners are being asked to remove HFSS products from areas where parents may experience ‘pester power’ or people may cave into a last second craving. 

The government is also asking shop owners to end promotions and deals on HFSS products both in store and online, including buy one get one free and three for two deals.


Opportunities for business owners

The government has faced criticism over its obesity plan with many food industry experts believing that the actions are too little too late. 

Dominic Watkins, Head of Food at leading legal firm DWF, thinks these changes aren’t going to be enough to counter obesity in the UK. Watkins says:

“While the food and retail sectors certainly have a role to play, we as citizens arguably have a more substantial role to play in looking after our own health, and in particular, levels of activity. This is a complex and emotive topic, but one that requires holistic measures in order to make real change. 

Rather than banning or restricting, it would be far better to invest money in supporting ‘healthy' foods and providing people with the skills to understand how to make healthier choices. 

A comprehensive approach to education and nudges towards choosing an active and healthy lifestyle rather than focusing just on restrictions in food and retail would be the best course of action.”

With that in mind, is there room in the health and wellbeing sector for businesses that have a more holistic approach to helping people lead a healthier lifestyle

The government has also said that one of its actions going forward is to look into how it can support people with obesity to lose weight through holistic weight loss and wellbeing programmes or apps

So should more people be looking into how they can disrupt the health and wellbeing technology space?

Furthermore, the paper brought to light the fact that disability groups may not have access to the same weight loss opportunities as those without disabilities, calling on more to be done to help disadvantaged people.

And what about promoting a healthier lifestyle at work? Workplace mental health groups such as Sanctus are starting to play an increasingly important role in ensuring employees have a space where they can talk about worries and concerns that may lead to actions like comfort eating. 

So is there room for businesses to invest in more holistic wellbeing and fitness services to further promote a healthier lifestyle at work? 

A business already dipping its toes into the health and wellbeing sector is Heather Wellbeing, a Startups 100 company which balances the personal, the technical, and the holistic when it comes to mental health support.


Aimee Bradshaw
Aimee Bradshaw

Writer and researcher

Aimee recently joined Startups as resident expert in business tech, products, and services. Having ran her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she is an advocate of self starters and small businesses.