Why has Kessler, when he has had such success with his warnings on cigarette packets, not done the same thing for processed foods high in sugar?
Because, he tells me, when the warnings came in on cigarettes, the game was already up in the West for the tobacco industry. Their new markets were the Far East, India and China. It was no concession at all. The food industry is a different matter. For one thing, the food lobby is more powerful than the tobacco lobby. The industry is tied into a complex matrix of other interests: drugs, chemicals, even dieting products. The panoply of satellite industries that make money from obesity means the food industry’s relationship to obesity is an incredibly complex one.
Anne Milton, the UK minister for public health, tells me that legislation against the food industry isn’t being ruled out, because of the escalating costs to the health service. Previous governments have always taken the route of partnership. Why? Because the food industry provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of US dollars in revenue. It is immensely powerful, and any politician who takes it on does so at their peril. “Let’s get one thing straight,” Milton tells me, however. “I am not scared of the food industry.”
And I believe her, because now, there is something far bigger to be frightened of. Eventually, the point will be reached when the cost to the NHS of obesity, which is now US$7.7 billion a year, outweighs the revenue from the UK snacks and confectionery market, which is currently approximately US$12.4 billion a year. Then the solution to obesity will become very simple.