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Experts and campaigners slam obesity strategy

By Deven Pamben    18 Aug 2016
Today's obese children will be tomorrow's obese adults / Shutterstock

Experts and campaign groups have poured scorn on the government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy, describing it as a “missed opportunity”, “embarrassing” and “weak”.

The government released the 13-page document on Thursday, outlining its aim to significantly reduce England’s rate of childhood obesity within the next ten years. Key points include:

- Introduction of a soft drinks industry levy across the UK

- The food and drinks industry has been challenged to cut sugar in products by at least 20 per cent by 2020, including a 5 per cent reduction over the next year

- Children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, with 30 minutes in schools and the other half-an-hour during home time

- Every public sector building, from leisure centres to hospitals, should have a food environment designed so the easy choices are also the healthy ones

- The majority of schools are subject to the School Food Standards. However, some academies and free schools are not. A campaign will be launched to encourage all schools to commit to the standards

- Breakfast clubs will be expanded to ensure that more children benefit from a healthy start to their school day.

However, the strategy has come under fire for not going far enough.

The Obesity Health Alliance said the measures were far from an ambitious and had let down the next generation who will pay the price for the government’s failure to take strong action.

The alliance, which is a coalition of 33 national charities, medical royal colleges, and campaign groups, said: “The government’s plan is underwhelming and a missed opportunity to tackle the obesity crisis and its devastating burden on the health of both society and the NHS.

“We live in an environment where children and their families are bombarded by junk food advertising and many everyday foods and drinks are stuffed full of fat and sugar. This is fuelling the huge numbers of children we are seeing who are overweight and obese, and therefore at great risk of serious health conditions in adult life such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancer as well as associated mental health problems. These conditions are not only personally devastating but are costly and pose real threat to the sustainability of our already overstretched health service.

“This is why we need strong and bold government action to make it as easy as possible for children and their families to make healthier choices and lead healthier lives. While the launch of the soft drinks industry levy consultation is an important step, the Government’s plan falls disappointingly short of what is needed.”

Action on Sugar said the Prime Minister Theresa May had failed the nation with the release of such a weak “obesity strategy” despite calls to release a robust and effective plan.

Jenny Rosborough, the charity’s campaign manager and registered nutritionist, said: “Theresa May launched her prime minister campaign by saying that she wanted to tackle health inequalities – obesity being a major factor in this. The UK should lead the world in tackling obesity and type 2 diabetes and this is an embarrassing and inexcusable waste of a fantastic opportunity to put the nation’s health first.”

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said the strategy had to be downgraded to a plan.

Shirley Cramer CBE, RSPH chief executive, said: “If we are to stand any chance of reversing the shocking rates of childhood obesity, it will require hard hitting action on many fronts. It is of course welcome to see further investment in school sport and that Ofsted inspections will now take into account how schools support their pupil’s health. However, it does feel like several pages of the plan are missing; there is a glaring omission around any measures to tackle the aggressive marketing of junk food – on TV, online, and through sponsorship and price promotions. Such marketing and promotion was identified as a critical area for action by Public Health England in its sugar reduction report last year. It is therefore extremely disappointing that these evidence-based recommendations have been dismissed.”

The Local Government Association's portfolio holder for community Wellbeing, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said: “Today's obese children will be tomorrow's obese adults. Councils have long-warned that unless we take decisive action, both individually and through targeted initiatives, the potential consequences of obesity on people's health, such as diabetes and heart conditions, could be devastating and will bankrupt health and social care.

"We have called for fundamental reforms, such as a mandatory reduction of sugar in soft drinks, better sugar labelling on food and drink products, calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, and for councils to be given powers to ban junk food advertising near schools. We believe that these measures, which would help to promote greater individual responsibility, could help to significantly reduce childhood obesity.

"It is disappointing that a number of these key asks have not been included in the plan and we will continue to press government for them to be introduced.”

Professor Parveen Kumar, the British Medical Association board of science chair, said: “Given the UK has one of the highest levels of obesity in Western Europe with one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, the government should be doing everything in its power to tackle this problem. Instead it has rowed back on its promises by announcing a weak plan rather than the robust strategy it promised.”

Obesity  strategy  campaigners  experts 
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