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Childhood obesity plan attacked as 'weak' and 'watered down'

Campaigners accuse government of rowing back on promises and bowing to food industry pressure

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The long-awaited government's childhood obesity plan has finally been published but has been met with heavy criticism from health experts and campaigners who have accused the government of rowing back on its promises to improve children’s diets.

Chair of the House of Commons health select committee MP Dr Sarah Wollaston said that it was a “triumph” for food industry lobbyists as the interests of the food industry had “trumped those of children”.

The plan does include a target for industry to cut sugar in children's food and drink by 20% over the next four years, including a 5% cut over the next year, but these targets are voluntary. Public Health England will monitor progress and, if insufficient progress is made, the government will consider if levers are needed.

Plans to ban advertisements for unhealthy foods before the 9pm watershed and junk food from supermarket checkouts have been dropped.

Professor Parveen Kumar, chair of the BMA board of science chair, said: “Given the UK has the highest level 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.

“Although the government proposes targets for food companies to reduce the level of sugar in their products, the fact that these are voluntary and not backed up by regulation, renders them pointless. Targets are also needed to reduce levels of saturated fat and salt in products – these must be backed up by regulation.”

She added that food manufacturers bombarded children with their marketing every day for products that are extremely bad for their health. “It is incredibly disappointing that the government has failed to include any plans for tighter controls on marketing and promotion. While the introduction of a sugar tax is an encouraging step forward, this on its own is not enough to solve the obesity problem facing our country.”

Dr Wollaston said: “Big interests have trumped those of children in dumping advertising and promotion from the childhood obesity strategy. In downgrading the obesity 'plan' many important opportunities have been lost to improve children's diets and tackle health inequality.”

Chef Jamie Oliver, who has campaigned for action to improve the diets of children, tweeted: “I'm in shock. The long-awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy from @theresa_may’s new Government is far from robust... "

On his Facebook page he elaborated: “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?”

Dr Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy at the Health Foundation, said: “The government’s unambitious childhood obesity plan falls short of what is urgently needed to address a crisis which is placing mounting pressure on health and other public services. If unaddressed, obesity threatens our economic and social prosperity and the health and happiness of future generations.”

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