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UK Childhood Obesity

UK childhood obesity plan: attacked as ‘weak’ and ‘watered down’

The UK government’s long-awaited childhood obesity plan has been attacked by health experts, campaigners, MPs and retailers, while Jamie Oliver has called it “underwhelming” because “so much is missing”.

The childhood obesity strategy was released by the Department of Health on 18 August, but was swiftly criticised.

The strategy left out two measures that Public Health England had said would have the greatest impact on the childhood obesity epidemic: ending price-cutting promotions of junk food in supermarkets; and restricting advertising of unhealthy food to children through family TV programmes such as Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, as well as on social media and websites.

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

MP Sarah Wollaston said the plan showed “the hand of big industry lobbyists”, but a minister said it was “ambitious”.

Measures include a voluntary target to cut sugar in children’s food and drink.

What’s in the government’s plan?

The plan asks the food and drink industry to cut 5% of the sugar in products popular with children over the next year. It says the ultimate target is a 20% sugar cut, with Public Health England monitoring voluntary progress over the next four years.

Food and drink manufacturers that reduce the amount of sugar in their products by 20% will escape a proposed sugar tax on soft drinks when it is introduced in two years’ time.

The plan also calls on primary schools to deliver at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day and to help parents and carers ensure children get the same amount at home.

School sports will also get more funds – boosted by a tax on sugary drinks to come into force in 2018.

The childhood obesity strategy also says:

  • Public Health England (PHE) will set targets for sugar content per 100g, and calorie caps for certain products
  • PHE will report on whether the industry is reducing sugar content through the voluntary scheme
  • If insufficient progress is made, the government will consider “whether alternative levers need to be used”
  • A new voluntary “healthy schools rating scheme” will be taken into account during school inspections

Analysis: by Hugh Pym, BBC health editor

Much of the response to the government’s childhood obesity plan has been critical. Even one of the big supermarket chains has suggested it does not go far enough.

Mike Coupe, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, says there should be a tougher regime including compulsory targets for sugar and mandatory traffic light labelling.

The government plan involves a voluntary 20% sugar reduction scheme.

Theresa May seems to have concluded that the sugar levy on soft drinks – announced in the Budget in March – was enough government intervention.

Health organisations and campaigners are almost universally of the view there should have been wider action.

Some, though, acknowledge that the package unveiled, including a boost for school sport, is a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.

More from Hugh’s blog

Has the strategy been ‘watered down’?

Dr Wollaston – who is chairwoman of the health select committee – said it was “really disappointing” that “whole sections from the original draft have been dropped”, including measures on advertising junk food to children and on promotions such as two-for-one deals.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live that these could have made a “real difference really quickly”, and added: “I’m afraid it does show the hand of big industry lobbyists and that’s really disappointing.”….

BBC: Read more here


Related reading:

Childhood obesity: retailers urge mandatory cuts to food sugar levels

British Retail Consortium criticises proposal for voluntary action by manufacturers in government’s much-derided strategy…

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