Abstract Developing rational nutrition policy depends on information on desirable intakes of nutrients and consumption of foods, and on the current levels of consumption in the population. Government has systems to obtain formal scientific advice from independent expert committees whose advice is published. In addition, in the UK, several survey programmes provide a regular indication of the diets, physical activity and nutritional status of the population. Results of surveillance indicate several areas of concern, although improvements have been demonstrated over the last few decades. Policy is the remit of government and varies according to the priorities of the government in power. Several current policies across different government departments, although primarily directed at other goals, have impact on nutritional problems, in particular obesity. Harmonizing these policies with respect to public health is a major challenge for government.