Child health experts slam Government's obesity strategy

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has criticised the Government's new obesity strategy, which advises people in England to consume five billion fewer calories a day.

Last week health secretary Andrew Lansley said that 5bn calories was the equivalent of 16.9m cheeseburgers, which would cover around 20 football pitches, or 28.4m lattes, enough to fill four Olympic swimming pools.

Commenting on the strategy, Professor Terence Stephenson from the RCPCH said, ‘This publication aims to reduce calorie consumption by five billion calories a day which may grab headlines but is actually peanuts. Sixteen dry roasted peanuts per person, per day to be precise.

‘The plan also has no clear measures on how the food and drink industry will be made to be more "responsible" in their aggressive marketing of unhealthy food. 

He added,’ Obesity, especially childhood obesity, is the single greatest public health threat to this country, and if unchecked could be costing the NHS £10 billion per year by 2050. Suggesting that children in particular can be "nudged" into making healthy choices  especially when faced with a food landscape which is persuading them to do the precise opposite suggests this would be best described as a call to inaction.

‘We as a college wish to support both the Department of Health and the wider Government in a joined-up approach to tackling the prevention of childhood obesity with evidence based action.’
Despite recommending that people reduce the number of calories they consume, the amount of calories men and women can have daily has been increased from 2,550 calories to 2,605 for men and 1,940 to 2,079 calories for women. 

However a detailed analysis by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has revealed that most people already consume 10 per cent more than they need and should cut their intake by 100 calories a day.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies said, ‘Most of us are eating or drinking more than we need to and are not active enough. Being overweight or obese is a direct consequence of eating more calories than we need. Increasing physical activity is a part of the equation, but reducing the amount of calories we consume is key. 

‘We all have a role to play, from businesses to local authorities, but as individuals we all need to take responsibility. This means thinking about what we eat and thinking about the number of calories in our diets to maintain a healthy weight.’

Other measures outlined in the report, to reverse the growing number of overweight or obese people by 2020, include:

  • calling on the food and drink industry to extend and intensify their efforts to help people make healthier choices
  • continued investment in the Change4Life programme
  • getting local authorities to use their ‘new powers’ and ring-fenced public health budget to make a difference in communities.

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