With one in 20 Reception class children overweight or obese and a quarter of disadvantaged children obese by the time they leave primary school, the cross-party health committee is calling for ‘bold and urgent action’.
Deprived primary school children are also twice as likely to be obese than their more affluent peers.
Many of the committee's recommendations - set out in a report today - including the call for a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks, focus on cutting sugar, reflecting evidence presented by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition that sugar has a significant impact on obesity, and that children are consuming nearly three times the recommended maximum intake.
There is widespread support for a tax on sugary drinks among campaigners. More than 150,000 people have signed a petition in favour of a tax on sugary drinks, started by Jamie Oliver. The petition is being debated in Westminster Hall today (Monday 30 November).
The Government is due to publish a child obesity strategy in the new year.
The report also said that a successful obesity strategy would aim to reduce fat too.
Its key recommendations include:
- strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink;
- tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink;
- a centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink;
- a sugary drinks tax on full sugar soft drinks, in order to help change behaviour, with all proceeds targeted to help those children at greatest risk of obesity;
- labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons;
- improved education and information about diet;
- universal school food standards;
- greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity;
- early intervention to offer help to families of children affected by obesity and further research into the most effective interventions.
Chair of the Health Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said, ‘One third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, and the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese than the least deprived. This has serious consequences for both their current and future health and wellbeing and we cannot continue to fail these children. There are many causes and no one single or simplistic approach will provide the answer.
‘We therefore urge the Prime Minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through bold and wide ranging measures within his childhood obesity strategy.
‘We believe that if the Government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible. We believe that a sugary drinks tax should be included in these measures with all proceeds clearly directed to improving our children’s health.’
However, the British Soft Drinks Association rejected the call for a sugar tax.
Gavin Partington, BSDA director general, said, ‘This was not an inquiry in the conventional meaning of the word. It was part of the PR campaign by the health lobby to persuade ministers to introduce a tax on soft drinks.
‘By its own admission the Health Select Committee is merely proposing this tax because it’s easy to do yet there is no evidence worldwide that such a tax has an effect on obesity.'
- Read the committee’s report, Childhood obesity – brave and bold action