HC 1048-III Health CommitteeWritten evidence from Unilever UK and Ireland (PH 186)
The Government and public health bodies have developed a number of strategic responses to tackle the health challenges facing the UK. These include building physical activity into everyday life, promoting healthier food choices, and reviewing how food is promoted. In the UK, the diet and health debate is increasingly focused on out-of-home consumption and the role of employers in improving the nation’s health.
Unilever UK & Ireland (Unilever) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Health Select Committee inquiry into Public Health. The paper outlines Unilever’s belief that only a partnership approach will successfully address the public health challenges that we are presented with today; businesses role within this partnership; our involvement in the Public Health Commission and as one of the signatories to the Government’s Responsibility Deal on Public Health.
In 2008, Dave Lewis, then Chair of Unilever UK & Ireland, was invited to Chair the voluntary and independent Public Health Commission which comprised representatives from the food industry and public health sector. The Commission set out to explore all aspects of the Responsibility Deal proposal identified by the Conservative Party in an open and transparent manner, and in the spirit of seeking to make a positive contribution to the challenges of public health. The Commission made a series of recommendations for improving and aligning the contributions of businesses, charities and public sector organisations in tackling public health issues around diet, alcohol consumption and physical activity. The report was considered by the Conservative Party as it developed its Responsibility Deal.
In March 2011, under the Government’s Responsibility Deal for Public Health, Unilever signed up to ten pledges including labelling, reduction of salt and removal of transfats, promotion of physical activity and employee health and wellbeing. Unilever has and will continue to make advances with product reformulation and innovation where we can enhance the nutritional value of our products and provide helpful information to consumers about nutrition content. In addition, Unilever made an individual pledge to work in partnership with SMEs in the Leatherhead area, where our headquarters in the UK is located, to promote health and wellbeing to their employees
There is considerable debate regarding the appropriate role of business in tackling public health challenges which is often difficult and emotive. However, these challenges are great with cardiovascular disease causing 50,000 premature deaths a year, over a quarter of adults overweight or obese, and 2.8 million people with mostly Type 2 diabetes rising to an estimated 4 million by 2025 in the UK. Unilever believes that there is a legitimate role in public health for business as a commercial organisation, an employer, part of the local community and with the people who buy our products. Indeed, the wider public policy trend in relation to addressing a host of issues within the broad context of sustainability supports a multi-agency approach to achieve long term change.
1.1 The paper outlines Unilever’s belief that only a partnership approach will successfully address the public health challenges that we are presented with today; businesses role within this partnership; our involvement in the Public Health Commission and as one of the signatories to the Government’s Responsibility Deal on Public Health.
2.0 About Unilever
2.1 Unilever employs almost 7,000 people across 20 sites encompassing manufacturing, distribution centres and R&D in the UK & Ireland. Unilever is one of the largest consumer goods companies globally. The portfolio ranges across food, home and personal care products including tea, spreads, ice cream, detergents, washing powder and shampoo. Unilever products can be found in nine out of ten UK homes, this brings a unique understanding of how consumers live and work which can drive positive behaviour change.
3.0 Policy context to business and public health
3.1 The Government and public health bodies have developed a number of strategic responses to tackle the health challenges facing the UK. These include building physical activity into everyday life, promoting healthier food choices, and reviewing how food is promoted. In the UK, the diet and health debate is increasingly focused on out-of-home consumption and the role of employers in improving the nation’s health. The Government’s response to, “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”
3.2 In 2008, Andrew Lansley, then Shadow Health Secretary established the Public Health Commission to look at a proposed “responsibility deal” by the Conservative Party between government and business. Dave Lewis then Chairman of Unilever UK & Ireland accepted the invitation to Chair the Commission on the basis that, firstly, it was politically impartial and independent, with its findings shared with all parties at the same time; and, secondly, that the panel should be balanced and comprise of all sides of the debate, therefore, the Commission representatives were drawn from the food and drink industry and public health sector based on their expertise. All Commission members participated in a voluntary capacity. Whilst participants were cautious about taking part, everyone wanted to make a positive contribution to public health.
3.3 Up until the Commission was established a lot of energy had gone into the areas where parties disagreed. However, it was clear if we could identify those issues we could agree upon, and there were many, real progress would be made.
3.4 The Commission members agreed from the outset that they would like to work differently from other Government committees they had served on. The Commission explored all the aspects of the Responsibility Deal in an open and transparent manner will all papers made available on the Public Health Commission website which is still operational and contains all the details of the meetings and the final report: http://www.publichealthcommission.co.uk/.
3.5 The Commission published its final report, “We’re all in this together, Improving the Long-Term Health of the Nation”
3.6 The Conservative Party considered the report as it developed its proposal. The Responsibility Deal on Public Health was launched in March 2011 with the food and drink industry pledging to meet a series of targets on physical activity, health at work, food and alcohol, as well as individual pledges. Unilever has signed up to ten pledges covering food, physical activity, health at work and an additional individual pledge:
Reduce salt levels to meet targets by the end of 2012.
Provide calorie information in out-of-home settings from September 2011 in accordance with the principles for calorie labelling agreed by the Responsibility Deal.
Remove artificial transfats from products by end of 2011.
3.6.2 Physical Activity
Contribute to the communication and promotion of the Chief Medical Officers’ revised physical activity guidelines.
Increase physical activity in the workplace.
Tackle the barriers to participation in physical activity faced by some of the most inactive groups in the society (within our employee base).
3.6.3 Health at Work
Embed the principles of the chronic conditions guides within HR procedures to ensure that those with chronic conditions at work are managed in the best way possible with reasonable flexibilities and workplace.
Use only occupational health services which meet the new occupational health standards and which aim to be accredited by 2012–13.
Include a section on the health and well-being of employees within annual reports and or websites including staff sickness absence rate.
Implement some basic measures for encouraging healthier staff restaurants and vending outlets including: the provision of healthier foods; responsible portion sizes; provide fruit and vegetables; and calories or GDAs on menus per portion as a minimum.
3.6.4 Individual Pledge
To work in partnership with SME organisations to help them to promote health and wellbeing amongst their staff in the Leatherhead area only for the pilot.
4.0 Unilever’s approach
4.1 There is considerable debate about business becoming involved in public health which should be acknowledged. Concerns have been expressed about whether activity in this area is more public relations than substance, a way of avoiding regulation or in conflict with duties to shareholders. The following sets out how we are seeking to address public health issues and seeking to meet the pledges signed up to as part of the Responsibility Deal.
4.2 Unilever is committed to growing our business but not at the expense of the environment and social well-being. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan
4.3.1 As a food manufacturer, through product reformulation and innovation we can enhance the nutritional value of our products and provide helpful information to consumers about nutrition content. Through the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Unilever was instrumental in leading Project Neptune, a salt reduction activity. This succeeded in achieving a 30% reduction in salt levels in soups and sauces over three years (10% reduction year on year 2003–06). In 2003, Unilever introduced its Nutrition Enhancement Programme (NEP) based on international and a range of national dietary guidelines to assess and improve the nutritional quality of our food and beverage portfolio. By the end of 2008, we had eliminated 30,370 tons of trans-fats, 18,000 tons of saturated fats, 3,640 tons of sodium and 37,000 tons of sugars globally. This is an ongoing process in order to help us improve the nutritional content of our products.
4.3.2 Through our involvement in the Commission and the insight gained from the medical community we recognised that there was concern about transfat intake out-of-home. Unilever, therefore, signed up to removing partially hydrogenated fats from the portfolio and across the business. Unilever has removed the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (p-HVO) from Elmlea, which in turn has removed the artificial transfat from the product. This was technically very challenging and consequently we have made a substantial investment to overcome this challenge. The reformulation process began in 2009 and the product was re-launched in mid 2010.
4.4 Consumer awareness and behaviour change
4.4.1 Unilever believes that positive guidance drives positive consumer behaviour by using GDAs as opposed to colour-coding. Unilever uses per portion GDA information on all its food brands to help consumers make informed choices. We oppose the use of colour-coding of GDAs as this may lead to inaccurate conclusions on the nutritional composition of similar foods. As a result, the system can create significant anomalies whereby healthier and less healthy food products are both labelled red for key nutrients. Such a simple labelling system often removes the incentive for food manufacturers to reduce salt, saturated fat and sugar content of their products as any improvements will not be rewarded by a change in label colour. For instance, Unilever has provided the people who buy our products with healthier options. Our spreads range offers a light option containing almost half the fat of our original version and now outsells it. Under a colour coded system both options would be labelled red.
4.4.2 The Commission highlighted the untapped opportunity to give consumers nutrition information when they eat out-of-home. The out-of-home sector accounts for over eight billion meals ever year. Until recently that was eight billion meals without any nutrition information. Over half of the meals eaten out-of-home are in schools, hospitals and workplace restaurants. These are often provided by contract caterers with highly managed menus and should be considered prime candidates for introducing nutrition information quickly and effectively.
4.4.3 The Responsibility Deal has now called for nutrition labelling to be displayed in a consistent manner to that used on foods sold in supermarkets, as this will help build nutrition literacy and give consumers a more informed overview of their whole diet. As a result, Unilever has driven consistency in nutrition information across our business. We use the same GDA information on our retail brands, our restaurant menus and in both our out of home product packs and communications. Unilever’s Food Solutions business which sells products and services out-of-home is making good progress in working with our customers to put GDAs on menus. Now over 100 NHS restaurants have and GDAs.
4.5 Occupational Health
4.5.1 Fit Business is a workplace health intervention programme based on the provision of information to employees that allows them to make healthy choices, and support their lifestyle behaviour changes. The programme aims to reduce levels of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
4.5.2 In 2009, Fit Business began with a year-long workplace health pilot with 2,000 employees and has now been rolled out to all 7,000 employees in the UK and Ireland. The programme includes: health checks to help employees understand health measures like blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index (BMI), and to provide tailored advice enabling them take control of their own health; nutritional information in employee restaurants showing calorie, fat, sugar and salt content and GDAs to allow employees to make informed and balanced choices; guidance on being more activity in the workplace which can help employees reach the daily recommended exercise levels in line with Change4 Life guidance; extra support for high risk people, based on the health profile or their role; and alignment of mental health and personal resilience activities.
4.5.3 The pilot had a measurable impact on employees: 62% reported an increase in energy; 46% made changes to their diet; 35% decrease of overweight, obese or very obese respondents based on BMI; and, 25% increase of above average or athletic fitness heart rate. The pilot was independently evaluated by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR). Their report noted a number of public policy implications
4.5.4 Unilever has made an individual pledge as part of the Responsibility Deal to work in partnership with local SMEs in the Leatherhead area to help them promote health and well-being amongst their staff. This means that we will extend our 2011 Fit Business programme to a selection of small local businesses and we will work with local partners, such as the Leatherhead Chamber of Commerce, local PCT and the District Council to find ways of engaging with employees in these businesses and establishing how workplace health schemes can be extended into the community. The pilot was launched in February 2011 and will cover healthy cooking; physical activity; mental wellbeing; and drug, alcohol and smoking.
5.1 There is considerable debate regarding the appropriate role of business in tackling public health challenges which is often difficult and emotive. However, these challenges are great with cardiovascular disease causing 50,000 premature deaths a year
5.2 Unilever believes that there is a legitimate role in public health for business as a commercial organisation, an employer, part of the local community and with the people who buy our products. Indeed, the wider public policy trend in relation to addressing a host of challenging issues within the broad context of sustainability supports a multi-agency approach to achieve long term change.