06-26-2012, 11:47 PM
Quote:The shopping habits of Britain's 25 million supermarket loyalty card holders could be grabbed by the Government in an attempt to halt the UK's dangerous obesity crisis, it was claimed today.
People who buy too much alcohol, fatty foods or sugary drinks would be targeted with 'tailored' health advice under plans being considered by the Coalition.
With more children than ever dangerously overweight, parents could also be contacted if their bills show they are not giving their offspring a balanced diet from their weekly shop.
Cutting obesity-related illness would help the NHS save billions.
A Whitehall unit set up to covertly change the habits of Britons has already been in talks with the major supermarkets to gain access to their huge shopping databases.
Their loyalty card systems allows them to collate detailed lists of what all their shoppers buy. Around 25 million people have these cards, with Tesco alone having 15 million members.
The head of the Government's Behavioural Insights Team said supermarkets had more information on the diets of Britons than their own doctors.
David Halpern, the head of the Whitehall team known as the 'nudge unit', told The Daily Telegraph: 'If you go and buy your stuff regularly, they [the supermarkets] know exactly what you are buying.'
Prime Minister David Cameron is said to back these 'nudge' tactics, which are designed to slowly influence the choices of people rather than using Government legislation to force change.
But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and other Tories are said to be opposed to the idea in case they are accused of snooping on the public by employing 'Big Brother' techniques.
American academic Richard Thaler, who is an expert on nudge techniques met the cabinet, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor George Osborne this month, to discuss the issue with them.
He told them that the information held by Britain's big businesses is key to helping them change behaviour.
The PM has already tried several ideas using nudge techniques with varying degrees of success.
A scheme to help people compare energy prices with people in their street worked as did writing to professionals to encourage them to fill in their late tax returns.
One in three doctors, for example, responded to the letters by submitting it, ten times the number a year earlier when no letter was sent.
It is not clear yet whether supermarkets will agree to share their information as attempts by Governments in the past have been rejected.
But with the issue of obesity in Britain a growing problem they may be convinced to help as they face pressure to help improve diet and lifestyle.