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18th Jan 2023

Food regulator chief compares harm of bringing cake into offices to passive smoking

Stephen Porzio


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The chairperson of the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has compared the harm of bringing cake into offices to that of passive smoking.

In an interview with The Times, Susan Jebb – who is also a professor of Diet and Population Health at the University of Oxford – said it is not enough to depend on the “extraordinary efforts” of personal willpower necessary to avoid overeating.

She stated that this is because society constantly pushes food on people.

Speaking not on behalf of the food watchdog but in a personal capacity, Jebb explained:

“We all like to think we’re rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices the whole time and we undervalue the impact of the environment.

“If nobody brought in cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day.

“But because people do bring cakes in, I eat them.

“Now, OK, I have made a choice but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub.”

Though Jebb did point out that the two issues were not identical, she stated that passive smoking inflicted harm on others and argued that “exactly the same is true of food”.

“With smoking, after a very long time, we have got to a place where we understand that individuals have to make some effort but that we can make their efforts more successful by having a supportive environment,” she added.

“But we still don’t feel like that about food.”

Jebb is also a member of The Times Health Commission which launched this week and is a year-long inquiry into the NHS and social care in England.

At the commission’s first meeting, the chairman of Asda, Lord Rose of Monewden, suggested that workplaces should do more for their staff’s health.

Highlighting that businesses already must report efforts on equality, diversity and pay, Rose asked: “Why don’t we lobby to say that also in that process as employers, we have a legal obligation to do something about our employees’ health?”

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