Hardening Conservative ideology imperils healthy eating goal, Dimbleby warns

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A hardening anti-interventionist ideology in the Conservative Party risks thwarting efforts to tackle an epidemic of food related disease. That’s the warning from the business leader and author of the National Food Strategy report, Henry Dimbleby.

Earlier this week Dimbleby quit his position as the Government’s food tsar, a role he was appointed to by the Johnson Government, over what he called “an insane failure to tackle obesity”. 

He expanded on his reasons for stepping down in an interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain (Today, 20 March). “I think the ideology of the Conservative party in the way that they are dealing with the problem of diet related disease makes no sense. In 10 years’ time, whatever government is in power, is going to be dealing with huge problems across  the NHS, which is going to suck money from the rest of government spending and cause misery from diet related disease.”

Dimbleby says a that  “feedback loop” between “companies, their commercial incentives and our appetites” perpetuates unhealthy eating habits – “Government needs to intervene”. But he says the current Conservative administration has “pulled back” from policy commitments that Boris Johnson had publicly backed.

Dimbley said that “the hardening anti-interventionist ideology” around food policy was misguided. “Think of Winston Churchill’s comment that healthy citizens are the greatest asset a country can have. The role of Government is to clear up mess. So this is misguided even in terms of electoral popularity. Many voters we talked to, including those in red wall constituencies, said they were sick and tired of having their children being targets of junk food marketing. They actually want intervention. But it has got into the heads of a certain type of Conservative politician that this sort of thing is wrong, it’s bad, ideologically incorrect. This attitude is going to cause problems for the whole country unless it is reversed.”

Dimbleby is worried that a new wave of appetite suppressant drugs will be viewed by politicians as an alternative, market solution to dealing with Britain’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. “You could need up with 20 or 25 million people in the population medicated for the problems being created by the food industry. Is that the kind of society we want, where we are simply shifting the money from people making junk food to people making drugs, when there are quite reasonable interventions you can take to make a healthier, more pleasurable unmedicated society?”

Ravenous by Henry Dimbleby is published by Profile Books at £16.99

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