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Health minister 'misguided' in linking obesity with deprivation

Public health Pharmacy leaders hit out at the public health minister this week after she claimed the country’s most obese people were usually the poorest.

Pharmacy leaders hit out at England's public health minister this week after she claimed the country's most obese people were usually the poorest.

Anna Soubry was "misguided" to associate bad food with deprived areas and the government should tackle the food industry if it is serious about improving the nation's health, said Numark head of information services Gary Choo.

Mr Choo's comments came after the Conservative MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, told the Daily Telegraph that in her constituency it was possible to tell somebody's background by their weight.

"Educating children on healthy lifestyles without also tackling the food industry's tactics and practices will not improve the nation's health" Gary Choo, Numark

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"Obviously not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds, but that's where the propensity lies," Ms Soubry told the newspaper last Tuesday.

"It is a heartbreaking fact that people who are some of the most deprived in our society are living on an inadequate diet. But this time it's an abundance of bad food," she added.

But although deprived areas should be supported, deprivation was "merely one aspect to consider when exploring the cause of an unhealthy diet," Mr Choo told C+D.

"It is extremely unhelpful to think poor people eat bad food," he said. "Educating children on healthy lifestyles without also tackling the food industry's tactics and practices will not improve the nation's health."

Lloydspharmacy chief Andy Murdock agreed that, while deprived areas had different needs to more affluent ones, "neither politicians nor healthcare professionals should jump to conclusions." 

"I believe every area deserves to have easy access to effective health and population health advice and pharmacy fits that bill," Celesio UK external relations and policy director Mr Murdock said. "The healthy living pharmacy concept may be an important mechanic in helping achieve this."

A report published in February last year by the health and social care information centre claimed that the prevalence of obesity rose with increasing levels of deprivation for both men and women, with 25 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women in deprived areas classed as obese.

Ms Soubry's comments came after she spoke at a London event last Tuesday (January 22), hosted by the Food and Drink Federation, which represents and advises the UK's food and drink manufacturers. She warned food manufacturers they should cut the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their products voluntarily or ministers may force them to through legislation.

C+D reported earlier this month that pharmacy leaders had rejected proposals by Westminster City Council to withdraw benefits from obese patients who refuse to take up exercise, saying it was not the answer to tackling the problem.


What do you make of the public health minister's comments?

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5 Comments

Rachael Parkman, Work for a health/commissioning consultancy company

There is a huge difference between giving people information and advice, and supporting long-lasting behaviour change. Information alone will not tackle these issues.

Rajive Patel, Community pharmacist

Go to big cities anywhere in the developed world and the same phenomenon is literally visible: more poor people waddling around than is the case for their wealthier (and usually better educated) contemporaries.

It was not always thus: if you look at film footage of the civil-rights demonstrations in the American South in the 1960s, the cops are usually slim—which is hardly the case today. But in those days, of course, there were far fewer fast-food outlets. Now, they are everywhere, which leads me (and Ms Soubry), to a simple conclusion: junk food is cheap, so the poor eat junk food; ipso facto, the poor become fat. Obviously that is a bit of a generalisation, but surely there is a kernel of truth there.

This said, pharmacy leaders who dissent, should go back and look at the comments in context!!

Milan Amin, Superintendent Pharmacist

Who are these people speaking for my profession? Bunch of do gooder liberals wearing washing up gloves!

Go to any "poor" country in the world and you will see poor people slim and rich people fat.Go to a "rich" country and you will see the poor fat and the rich slim.

See the correlation ? or are some people just too stupid to see the truth and instead throw in every erroneous factor into a most simple equation.We in the west provide free food for the so called poor whilst those less fortunate in other countries have to earn their own, and that means working and burning their calories at the same time.

Farm Assistant, Community pharmacist

could not agree more. i'm fed up with our so called leaders making statements on behalf of OUR profession without ever consulting the workers. in future will they please make it clear that whatever they say is THEIR personal opinion and that they have not even bothered to ask those that they so called represent. ie they don't know what they are talking about!

Milan Amin, Superintendent Pharmacist

Sorry rajive , my comment was not a reply to you.

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