A healthy diet, the reduction of obesity rates and the promotion of food safety are all collective interests. Accordingly, the government has a part to play. In recent decades, the main emphasis of food policy has been on safety.
The approach, set out in a government policy document entitled ‘Langer Gezond Leven’ (‘Living longer in good health’), addresses both lifestyle factors and environmental factors which encourage a healthy diet and sufficient physical activity.
However, the emphasis should not be solely on overweight and energy balance, thereby masking the significant influence of a proper dietary composition on the prevalence of certain chronic diseases (both in association with and aside from overweight). In the parliamentary debate on Dutch government policy, the emphasis is placed on the personal responsibility of consumers and on the voluntary cooperation of the private sector.
The government step
This is contradictory to the causal analysis made by experts, who call for the emphasis to be placed on the physical and social environment. Legislative measures may be useful in promoting a healthy diet With regard to a healthy diet and eating habits, the government seeks to exert far less control than in the case of food safety, preferring to leave many aspects to social forces. Food safety involves the use of legislation, sanctions, controls, inspections and supervision. It is felt that the interests of a healthy diet are better served by voluntary agreements and information.
This difference in approach may be justified in terms of the principle of public health protection that applies to food safety. However, as this report makes clear, the promotion of a healthy diet requires a strong push by the government and by society itself. If incentives and voluntary agreements do not have the desired effect, legislation may prove appropriate.