Tony Blair has called on ministers to tax junk food and impose tougher regulations on the food industry to tackle the obesity crisis, saying preventative measures to help people take responsibility for their health and lose weight were essential to creating a sustainable future for the NHS.
“We’ve got to shift from a service that’s treating people when they’re ill to a service that is focused on well-being, on prevention, on how people live more healthy lives,”
“You can’t run a modern healthcare system where people are going live much longer unless they take some responsibility. You’ve got to help them do that,” Blair said, speaking to The Times Health Commission, comparing the proposition with smoking ban, which he introduced as prime minister in 2007.
“The way of helping them do that, particularly with poor families, is to create the circumstances in which [they can choose healthier food].”
The government has recently delayed a series of policies to tackle junk food, including a ban on advertising before 9pm, and a ban on “buy one, get one free” deals.
Two thirds of British adults are obese or overweight, and obesity costs the NHS about £6.5 billion a year, and is the second biggest cause of cancer.
“Diet is really important. You’re also doing no favours to young people [by not taking action]. If their diet is poor, their health is going to be poor, their lives are going to be poorer. You’ve got to grip these decisions. You’ve just got to take the decision and just get on with it and drive it through.”
Blair said concerns over the “nanny state” were a “minority view”, comparing the current debate over anti-obesity policies to the debate over the ban on smoking in public places, which has been widely judged to be a success.
“Smoking was a big, big moment for us. I was a bit worried because people whose political judgement I respected were saying — the working class will walk away from you completely, he said, adding that he would expand the sugar tax, introduced in 2018, and introduce other taxes on foods high in fat, salt and sugar, as well as regulating the food industry through measures such as advertising restrictions.”