Health Groups Welcome Child Obesity Plan Phase Two

Tim Locke

June 25, 2018

Health groups have been reacting to the latest phase of the Government's plan to tackle child obesity in England.

Official statistics show that one in three children in England is now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.

The first phase, announced in 2016, brought in the soft drinks levy, also known as the 'sugar' tax, and voluntary targets for the industry to reduce sugar content by 20% in food and drink.

Yesterday, 'chapter two' of the plan was announced by the Department of Health and Social Care, with the stated ambition of halving the number of obese children by 2030.

Second Chapter

The newly announced measures include:

  • Preventing shops from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts or including it on buy-one-get-one-free offers to help avoid 'pester power'.

  • Consultation on the introduction of "clear, consistent calorie labelling" on restaurant, café, and takeaway menus.

  • Consultation on banning the sale of 'energy drinks' to children. Research has found these drinks are consumed by a quarter of 6 to 9-year-olds and can contain more caffeine than a cup of coffee.

  • Consultation on preventing the targeting of children in TV and online adverts for foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. This could include extending the TV advertising watershed and limiting unhealthy food adverts shown during programmes for children to 9pm.

  • Incentives for companies to reduce sugar and calorie content in products.

  • An ambition for primary school children to take part in a daily 'active mile'.

The Cost of Obesity

In a statement, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for England, Jeremy Hunt said: "It is near impossible to shield children from exposure to unhealthy foods. Parents are asking for help – we know that over three-quarters of parents find offers for sugary sweets and snacks at checkouts annoying. It's our job to give power to parents to make healthier choices, and to make their life easier in doing so.

"The cost of obesity – both on individual lives and our NHS – is too great to ignore. Today we are taking steps to ensure that by 2030, children from all backgrounds have the help they need for a healthier, more active start in life."
 

'Bold and Ambitious'

Members of the Obesity Health Alliance campaign group include the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Medical Association (BMA), and the Faculty of Public Health. It said it strongly welcomed the Government's "bold and ambitious commitments outlined in the next phase of their childhood obesity plan. If implemented, they have real potential to ensure that children in the UK will face the healthy future they deserve. For too long our environment has continually steered us towards high fat and sugar options with relentless advertising and promotions."

Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, chair of the BMA board of science, said: "The Government has listened to many doctors' concerns about how best we tackle the pressing problem of childhood obesity and this next stage of the plan shows the potential to illuminate the path towards a healthier future for generations to come." 
 
She continued: "With no time to waste, we hope the Government does everything in its power to make this vision a reality. It must ensure that a strong regulatory framework is central to tackling the burden of childhood obesity by limiting commercial influences. The Soft Drinks Industry Levy is already having a positive impact and is a good example of how further legislation could be laid down."

Speaking for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), Professor Russell Viner, said: "Chapter two of the Government's childhood obesity plan is extremely encouraging, particularly the focus on reducing inequalities as we know it is poorer families who are most at risk. Policies relating to restrictions on junk food advertising, mandatory calorie labelling, price promotions and supermarket product placement are all to be applauded.  So too are planning support for local authorities and better curriculum-led health education in schools."

He continued: "We hope to see future measures introduced to support children who are already overweight and obese through improved access to weight management services. Whilst it is pleasing to see the continuation of the National Child Measurement Programme for children in reception year and year 6, we would like to see this programme extended to measure children after birth, before they start school and during adolescence in order to monitor trends and act quickly."

Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, Chris Askew, said: "These measures – if translated into legislation and action – have the potential to transform the health of our nation, and begin turning the tables on the type 2 diabetes time bomb we currently sit upon.

"In particular, we welcome the proposed commitment to clear, consistent calorie labelling in restaurants, cafes, and takeaways. Research tells us that having this information available helps consumers make healthier choices, so this could, in practice, be an incredibly positive step in the right direction."

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and honorary consultant at Barts & The London (Barts Health NHS Trust), and chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said: "Whilst we welcome Chapter two of the Government's childhood obesity plan, it clearly lacks firm commitment and only promises consultations by the end of the year. Why has this not already been done given the original plan was published 2 years ago? 

"What's missing is a fully joined up action-based campaign which includes: uniform traffic light labels on out of home food rather than just calorie labelling, mandatory reformulation on sugar and calories, a tax on confectionery or unhealthy food with the opportunity to reformulate and only healthy products (not high in fat, salt and sugar) should be marketed across all platforms, including TV, digital and print marketing. Simply consulting about the nation's biggest public health crisis is not going to save lives."
 

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