Publication of the strategy was first due in the autumn of 2015 but its release was subsequently rumoured to be scheduled for December 2015, then January 2016 and most recently this month. It is now expected to be unveiled in the summer.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health told our sister publication FoodManufacture that tackling obesity in young people was complicated and the government wanted to ensure that the strategy was fully formed before its publication.
Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the UK Health Forum, said: “The government has pledged its firm commitment to tackling child obesity, but we simply cannot afford a delay in taking action. As the clock ticks, the prevalence of obesity continues to rise, adding to already unsustainable demands on health and social care services.”
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents the British food industry, also said it was disappointed by the delay. Director general of FDF, Ian Wright, said: “Today’s announcement will also mean several further months’ of uncertainty for the food industry, broadcasters and retailers. Nonetheless our food and drink producers remain ready and willing to work with government, and others, to tackle obesity.”
Campaigners are now saying it is unlikely the strategy will include a sugar tax, one of the recommendations made to the government by Public Health England last year. While the government had previously said it would not consider fiscal measures to tackle obesity, comments made by the prime minister, David Cameron last month were widely interpreted by campaigners as an indication that a tax had not been ruled out and could still feature in the strategy.
Whether it’s being passionately defended or lambasted, mention of a sugar tax is increasingly brought up in the debate over how to tackle burgeoning obesity rates. A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is already in place in Mexico, and is being mulled over to varying degrees in Britain, Russia and in the Philippines, Indonesia and India. The World Health Organisation said last month fiscal measures should be part of a multiple-pronged approach to curb child obesity put in place by policymakers across the world.
Last week, the European commissioner for health and food safety, told delegates at a Brussels conference with industry, member states and health campaigners, he was in favour of using protective and preventative instruments to change market trends – and this included taxation.
“I have in mind - taxation, marketing, advertising, education, reducing accessibility to unhealthy food, and awareness-raising,” he said.
The commissioner also said he had been impressed by campaigner Jamie Oliver when they met and called for more people like Oliver to champion healthy food. “Like Jamie Oliver, I am particularly concerned by increasing obesity in children. Children eat what the school canteen and their parents give them; and what many kids eat are widely advertised, attractive, colourful and sweet products placed in visible places in supermarkets.”