Childhood obesity: Experts attack ‘weak’ and ‘watered-down’ strategy

The government’s childhood obesity plan has been attacked by health experts, campaigners, and MPs as a diluted version of that originally proposed earlier this year.

The Government has been accused of watering down childhood obesity strategy. Photo credit: Umberto Salvagnin

Professor Neena Modi president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is just one of the many experts who has slammed government action on reducing childhood obesity.

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She said: “Obesity kills as surely as smoking. Government took on the tobacco industry effectively, although it was a tough challenge, and can do it again now.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the government had “rowed back” on promises, and the CEO of Sainsbury’s said the plan did not go far enough.

The consultation asks the food and drink industry to cut 5 per cent of the sugar in products popular with children over the next year with the final target a 20 per cent sugar cut, with Public Health England (PHE) monitoring voluntary progress over the next four years.

It proposes primary schools to deliver at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day and to encourage the same amount at home. School sports will also get increased funding from the tax on sugary drinks due to be implemented in 2018.

The PHE will set targets for sugar content per 100g, and calorie caps for certain products. They will also report on whether the industry is reducing sugar content through the voluntary scheme and if progress is not made then the government will consider whether other measures are needed.

A new voluntary “healthy schools rating scheme” will be taken into account during school inspections.

MP Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health select committee, expressed her disappointment that much of the original draft had been dropped. She said “I’m afraid it does show the hand of big industry lobbyists and that’s really disappointing.”

Jane Ellison, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and formerly the public health minister said the government was acting on the “best advice” from public health experts. When pressed on concerns that the government had “watered down” the proposals to limit junk food advertising, she said the UK already had some of the “toughest restrictions in the world.”

The progress made by the industry will be reviewed by Public Health England who will publish updates every six months.

Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association called for a more “holistic” approach to reducing obesity. 

The consultation explains the UK’s decision to leave the EU will give the UK greater flexibility to determine what information should be presented on packaged food. This will build on the success of the current labelling scheme, and look at how industry can make it clearer, for example using teaspoons of sugar to show families what sugar content is in packaged food and drink.  

Ian Wright, of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Soft drink companies are already making great progress to reduce sugars from their products, having achieved a 16 per cent reduction between 2012 and 2016.”He said the target to reduce sugar was “flawed” because it focused on “the role of this single nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient”.

Many were concerned about the non-mandatory nature of the measures, including TV chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver who said he was “shocked” and “disappointed” with the Government’s childhood obesity strategy.

In a post on his Facebook account, Oliver said: “It contains a few nice ideas, but so much is missing.

“It was set to be one of the most important health initiatives of our time, but look at the words used – ‘should, might, we encourage’ – too much of it is voluntary, suggestive. Where are the mandatory points?

“Where are the actions on the irresponsible advertising targeted at our children, and the restrictions on junk food promotions?

“The sugary drinks tax seems to be the only clear part of this strategy, and with funds going directly to schools that’s great, but in isolation it’s not enough.

“This strategy was Britain’s opportunity to lead the way and to implement real, meaningful environmental change, to start removing the crippling financial burden from our NHS and reversing the tide of diet-related disease.

“With this disappointing and, frankly, underwhelming strategy, the health of our future generations remains at stake.”



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