Government missing opportunities to tackle childhood obesity, say MPs

A new report by the Health Select Committee calls for more robust action by the Government to tackle childhood obesity, including controlling the ‘deep discounting’ by supermarkets of unhealthy food and drink.

The Committee, made up of cross-party MPs, claims that measures in the Government’s childhood obesity strategy, published last August, do not go far enough.

It argues that the strategy contains ‘vague statements’ that are ‘inadequate.’

Within the report, MPs call for more do be done to reduce the number of cut-price and multi-buy offers on unhealthy food, along with rules on junk food advertisements to be made tougher – recommendations they previously put forward to Government to tackle obesity, but they say were either ignored or rejected.

They suggest a range of measures to regulate junk food adverts seen by children on TV, including extending current restrictions so that they apply across all programmes that children are likely to watch, rather than to just programmes specifically aimed at children, as is currently the case.

While the committee commends the Government for introducing a sugar levy in the Obesity Strategy, it calls for greater scrutiny of manufacturers  to ensure they pass on the cost of the levy to consumers, so there is a price difference between high and low-or no-sugar drinks.

They also recommend the levy on sugary drinks be extended to milk-based drinks that have added sugar.

Chair of the Health Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said, ‘We are extremely disappointed that the Government has rejected a number of our recommendations. These omissions 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.’

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) welcomed the report from the Health Select Committee.

Chief executive Andy Burman said, ‘The committee rightly recognise that the current childhood obesity strategy does not go far enough.

‘The evidence that advertising and promotions have a clear impact on the food choices of children and families is clear. The Government needs to take steps to stop manufacturers and retailers from deliberately pushing unhealthy products high in fat, sugar and salt to consumers, and especially children.’

Public health minister Nicola Blackwood said, 'We welcome the committee’s recognition of the progress we have made in this area, delivering the most ambitious plan on childhood obesity in the world. It is backed by the soft drinks industry levy as well as the most comprehensive reformulation programme of its kind, anywhere.

'Voluntary approaches have been shown to be very effective, but as we have repeatedly said, we have not ruled out further measures if results are not seen.'

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