A long-awaited government paper called ‘Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action’ is finally with us, and has been met with little enthusiasm. The campaigning group Action on Sugar swiftly branded it ‘pathetic’. Their chairman, the cardiovascular specialist Professor Graham McGregor, described it as ‘an insulting response’ to the obesity crisis and warned that diabetes would bankrupt the NHS unless the government took more radical steps.
A wide range of bodies and individuals responded negatively to the report. The British Medical Association claimed the government had backtracked on promises, and Dr Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Health Select Committee, told Radio 5 Live she was disappointed that whole sections of the original draft were omitted from the final report. These included sections relating to junk-food advertising aimed at children and promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free offers. ‘I’m afraid it does show the hand of big industry lobbyists and that’s really disappointing,’ she said.
The paper warns that ‘nearly a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese, and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer.’
It references grim statistics about the consequences of diabetes and the escalating cost of treating the overweight: more than the police, fire service and judicial system combined.
It then reiterates plans for a soft-drinks levy. However, this is the only enforceable legislation being introduced. The main idea is ‘a challenge’ to the food and drinks industry to cut sugar in nine product categories identified as those most frequently consumed by children. The government wants a voluntary 20 per cent reduction, starting with 5 per cent in the first year.
Public Health England will review how effective these measures are and if sufficient progress hasn’t been made by 2020, the government will consider if it needs to ‘use other levers to achieve the same aims’.
In addition, the report asks primary schools, parents and carers to make sure children get at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
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