Government plans on obesity do not go far enough, say MPs

27 Mar 17

The government must go beyond its current plans on unhealthy food and drink if it is serious about tackling childhood obesity, claims a Health Committee study.

Greater regulation of retailers is needed to curb heavy discounting of unhealthy food and drink, today’s report states.

“Retailers who act responsibly on discounting and promotions should not be put at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not,” the group of MPs said.

The committee’s report, which examines the government’s plan to combat childhood obesity, slammed Whitehall for not adopting all of its recommendations made in 2015. The government published an obesity plan in August last year.

“Campaigners and other commentators on childhood obesity were largely underwhelmed by its contents,” the health watchdog’s report says.

Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Health Committee, commented: “These omissions [of the committee’s recommendations] mean that the current plan misses important opportunities to tackle childhood obesity.

“Vague statements about seeing how the current plan turns out are inadequate to the seriousness and urgency of this major public health challenge.”

The government must set clear goals for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity as well as goals for reducing the unacceptable and widening levels of inequality, she added. The government has agreed to introduce a tiered levy on sugary soft drinks and reduce overall sugar content in food by 20% by 2020. It has also pledged to improve school food and public sector food, among other actions.

Money from the levy will go towards improving children’s health, such as, through increasing access to school sports and to breakfast clubs. The report also argued the levy should extended to include milk-based drinks with added sugar. 

Linda Thomas, vice chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said councils had spent more than half a billion pounds in tackling obesity since they took over responsibility for public health three years ago. “The cuts to public health budgets by government will make this task harder,’” she added.

“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,”

Thomas said. The government should allow the soft drinks levy to be administered by councils as they know which schools are of greatest need, the LGA believes. The 2014 Health Survey for England shows nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and in 2014/15 the NHS in England spent £5.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health.

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