Government strengthens Childhood Obesity Plan

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The Government has reformed its Childhood Obesity Plan to include tighter controls on junk food marketing.

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The updated Childhood Obesity Plan proposes tougher restrictions on junk food advertising on TV

It builds on the original and much-criticised plan, published in 2016, which was void of measures to restrict advertising and promotional deals on junk food.

The revised plan includes proposals to introduce new TV and online advertising restrictions and to mitigate ‘pester power’ by preventing stores from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts.

The Government will consult on introducing new TV and online advertising restrictions to prevent children from being targeted by unhealthy products, and to incentivise companies to cut the sugar and calories in the products they sell. This could mean extending the current advertising watershed and considering limiting the number of unhealthy food adverts shown during programmes children watch to 9pm.

It follows calls from the Obesity Health Alliance last week to put in place restrictions on junk food advertising on TV, as well as on-demand services, to protect young children from obesity.

Other draft measures in the updated plan include:

  • introducing clear, consistent calories' labelling on menus in restaurants, cafes and takeaways so parents can make an informed choice about what their families are eating.
  • banning the sale of ‘harmful’, caffeine laden energy drinks to children.
  • promoting a new national ambition for every primary school to adopt a daily ‘active mile’ initiative, such as the Daily Mile.

The Government has also committed to setting-up a three-year trailblazer programme with local authority partners to help close the deprivation gap, looking at what can be achieved in existing powers and understand what could be fuelling obesity in specific communities.

It is in reaction to figures that show children from deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be overweight.

Making the announcement today, the health minister Jeremy Hunt is expected to say, Parents want what is best for their children, but keeping them healthy and active can be difficult.

‘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.’

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said,Obesity is one of the greatest epidemics facing our children today. Bold action is required to tackle this public health crisis, and we’re pleased to see a clear commitment from Government to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030.

'The measures announced in this plan will help all families to make healthy choices and make a real difference in the lives of children and young people. We look forward to working closely with Government in delivering this promising plan’.

Obesity Health Alliance Lead Caroline Cerny said, 'We strongly welcome the Government’s bold and ambitious commitments outlined in the next phase of their childhood obesity plan. If implemented, they have real potential to ensure that children in the UK will face the healthy future they deserve. For too long our environment has continually steered us towards high fat and sugar options with relentless advertising and promotions.

'Chapter 2 of the Government’s childhood obesity plan crucially addresses the issue of children being continually exposed to junk food adverts when they watch their favourite TV shows and when they go online. These proposed measures, along with action on the promotion and placement of unhealthy food and improved labelling, demonstrate that the Government is stepping up to create a more balanced environment that will make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices.

'We now urge swift action from across Government departments and industry to make these commitments a reality. There is no silver bullet to tackling childhood obesity, and these measures, alongside programmes already underway, must be sustained and built upon over the long-term if we are to see a significant reduction in the number of children with an unhealthy weight.'

British Dietetic Association (BDA) obesity specialist group childhood obesity officer, Louise Tse said, 'We are delighted to see our work on Junk Free Checkouts and restricting children’s access to energy drinks, amongst other things, move towards fruition. In implementing this strategy, we call on the Government to recognise the central role dietitians can and should be playing in addressing the issue of childhood obesity.

'It is encouraging that more training and support will be offered to healthcare professionals to work with children and families, but Government must make sure it uses the skills of dietitians as experts to help upskill other HCPs and deliver specialist support to children with obesity.

'Along with our partners in the Obesity Health Alliance, we now urge swift action from across Government and industry to make these commitments a reality. There is no silver bullet to tackling childhood obesity, and these measures, alongside programmes already underway, must be sustained and built upon over the long-term if we are to see a significant reduction in the number of children with an unhealthy weight.'

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