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The real potential for behaviour change therapy in helping obesity shift and the power of correct nutrition education

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Changing our bad habits and behaviours can be a challenge. Now authorities are stepping in to support us in making healthier, informed choices about the food we eat.

Public health campaigns have been launched in the UK as early as 2016. The Change4Life Sugar Smart app saw 2 million downloads and prompted 96 per cent of parents of children aged 5-11 to cut their family sugar intake.

More recently, the Better Health campaign has encouraged the public to download apps for weight loss and physical activity.

The apps were launched in 2020 to meet the needs of those looking to keep fit during the COVID-19 pandemic and met a mixed response.

One twitter user added: “I’m very encouraged by #Betterhealth. The NHS ‘Better Health’ campaign encouraging weight loss is a good idea, it’s commendable”

However people criticised the campaign for being only a surface-level solution, as healthy food remains too expensive.

Furthermore, studies have shown interventions communicated by the government receive less public support, suggesting even if the message is good, people are critical of the source.

The UK government is also taking direct action to improve industry regulations so High Fat, Salt and Sugar foods aren’t promoted to shoppers. They also hope to remove TV adverts for these foods after 9pm by the end of 2022.

One of the government’s more innovative strategies is the creation of the Behavioural Insights Team or the ‘nudge’ unit, named after the unobtrusive way they encourage the public to stay healthy.

It could be as simple as sending out an email or a letter, reminding people that they can access weight management services and setting up an easy process to follow.

Research has found that nudges result in an average 15.3 per cent increase in healthier dietary or nutritional choices.

These changes could mark a shift in behaviour, however they do not address the route of the obesity problem or offer life-changing solutions.

We need to educate our health professionals and GPs toward behavioural change practices, encouraging them to reflect on their current approach to nutrition and involve themselves in discourse with policy makers and patients.

Shifting obesity should be a wider effort, involving every industry, so the right rules around food promotion, advertisements and labelling can be made.

The health promoting approaches taken by public health authorities are also becoming outdated. They need to be reviewed and renewed in the face of the present food climate.

Modern life and technology has changed the way we access, eat and have a relationship with food, more research should be undertaken into its effects on our behaviour.

Reinforcing behaviours through weight management is another way to ensure people maintain a healthy weight and choose better food options, leading to a higher demand for fresh, filling food.

Public health authorities also have a responsibility to track misleading perceptions around health and food, such as eating healthily is too expensive, and offer suggestions to the public on how to create cheap healthy meals and adopt good habits.

Ludovica De Pieri is a public health nutritionist and the founder of Reveal My Food.

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