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Checkout sweets targeted in obesity fight

But the Royal College of Nursing says we need more school nurses and health visitors

Mark Gould

Monday, 25 June 2018

New measures to tackle the UK's obesity epidemic include proposals to counter "pester power" by preventing stores from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts or including it in "Buy one, get one free" deals.

The Department of Health and Social Care says it will consult on introducing clear, consistent calorie labelling on menus in restaurants, cafés and takeaways, so parents can make an informed choice about what their families are eating. It will also consult on banning the sale of harmful, caffeine-laden energy drinks to children – a quarter of six to nine-year-olds consume these energy drinks, which can have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee or more.

And it is calling on industry to recognise the harm that adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt can cause. It will consult on introducing new TV and online advertising restrictions to prevent children from being targeted by these unhealthy products, and to incentivise companies to reduce the sugar and calories in the products they sell. This could include extending the current advertising watershed and considering limiting the number of unhealthy food adverts shown during children’s programmes up to 9pm.

A £620,000 fund will support the new national ambition for every primary school to adopt a daily "active mile" initiative, as well as £1 million to support the Department for Transport’s "Bikeability" cycling training programme, which hopes to fund an additional 25,000 training places.

In response to the new measures the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling for ministers to increase the number of school nurses and health visitors. “Positive messages are a vital part of helping families make healthy choices, yet the number of health visitors has declined by 20% in the last three years, and school nurse numbers have fallen even further,” said Donna Kinnair, the RCN's director of nursing, policy and practice.

“This means that for many parents, these messages are simply not getting through. Preventative services, including obesity clinics, are being cut across the country as public health funding continues to dwindle.

“Childhood obesity not only affects the lives of children now - it is storing up future problems for the NHS,” she added.

“To truly get to grips with the obesity crisis, ministers must reverse the decline in the number of school nurses and health visitors, and return these services to the NHS where they can continue the invaluable preventative work that has been diluted following government cuts to local authority budgets.”

Health secretary 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."

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