Nudging not enough to tackle obesity and binge drinking say Lords

The Government’s “nudge” approach to tackling unhealthy lifestyle choices is not evidence-based and is “unlikely to work” without regulation, a House of Lords committee has concluded.

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The committee says the Government should implement a traffic-light nutritional rating system across all food packaging, and criticises its voluntary agreements with food manufacturers as having “major failings” in a report published today.

The Science and Technology sub committee’s report “Behaviour Change” comes after a year long investigation into the Government’s approach to influencing behaviour.

“There are all manner of things that the Government want us to do – lose weight, give up smoking, use the car less, give blood – but how can they get us to do them? It won’t be easy and this inquiry has shown that it certainly won’t be achieved through using ’nudges’, or any other sort of intervention, in isolation,” says committee chair Baroness Neuberger.

The committee is also calling on the Government to invest in “robust” collection of evidence of what works to influence healthier choices, and appoint a “Chief Social Scientist” to provide independent policy advice.

The report follows an equally damning analysis in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) earlier this year which described the Government approach as “weak”, and also called for the measures to be backed by regulation.

The Lords also criticise the “public health responsibility deals” between government and food and drink manufacturers, which are an effort to curb irresponsible marketing that could encourage excessive eating or drinking of alcohol.

Health organisations involved in drawing up the pledges walked out of the talks amid complaints industry participants commitment to the process was inadequate.

The committee is also calling for restrictions on advertising foods high in fat, salt and sugar during children’s television programmes to be extended to include adult programmes watched by kids.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson says: “We will consider the Committee’s recommendations. We are glad that they recognise that that the application of behavioural insights continues to be an important policy lever for government.”

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