Too little government action against obesity

Researchers call for measures to foster a healthy living environment, such as a sugar tax.
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The government does not take enough action to stop the increase in obesity among the Dutch population. Thus say researchers of Utrecht University and WUR.

The researchers state that the government does not develop sufficient policies to ensure a healthy living environment. The government should stimulate healthy food choices by lowering sales taxes on fruits and vegetables while increasing taxes on products containing high fat, sugar, and salt levels. Moreover, the government could prohibit advertisements for unhealthy products that target children and forbid fast-food restaurants near schools.

Extra measures are needed, as the number of overweight people rose from 6 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent in 2018, according to data provided by the CBS (Dutch statistics agency). People with obesity are more prone to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and more likely to develop severe corona-related symptoms.


Maartje Poelman, of the Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles Group, collaborated with two researchers from Utrecht University to assess the Dutch health policies as part of a European project. The researchers asked 28 independent experts from universities, municipalities, health organisations and civic organisations their opinion on 22 measures to create a healthy living environment. The measures were divided into six categories: food composition, labelling, supply, pricing, marketing and retail.

A sugar tax has proven to be effective, but the Dutch government keeps postponing it

Maartje Poelman, Consumption and Heathy Lifestyles Group

The experts state that policy is insufficient or entirely lacking for 40 per cent of the 22 measures. Moreover, half of the policy measures are too weak. For example, too little action is taken to lower the cost of healthy products and increase the price of unhealthy foods. Poelman: ‘A sugar tax has proven to be effective and is reasonably simple to implement as several countries, including the United Kingdom, have shown. Nonetheless, the Dutch government keeps postponing it.’


The government could also stimulate the availability of healthy food and discourage the sale of unhealthy products. Supermarkets can adjust their lay-out and packaging to encourage consumers to make healthy choices, and restaurants can do the same through their menu.

The experts conclude that these measures are rarely taken, or not at all. Only the policy to offer training and support for initiatives to offer healthy foods was assessed as ‘sufficient’ by the experts.

The government does have good intentions and guidelines for healthy nutrition. Targets have been formulated, there is funding for nutrition research, the results of which are translated into policy, but this does not result in actual measures to force healthier food choices. The report was published on 29 January.

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