‘Inexcusable’ childhood obesity strategy a ‘missed opportunity,’ say campaigners

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Today nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. ©iStock
Today nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. ©iStock

Related tags: Unhealthy foods, Nutrition

The British government’s long-awaited obesity strategy for children was released today to a chorus of criticism from medical experts and campaigners, dismayed the measures did not go further.

While today’s announcement supported a sugar levy and self-regulation by the food industry, the report made no mention of expected restrictions limiting the marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods to children.

Critics called this omission ‘inexcusable’ arguing that a game-changing strategy was needed and promised a year ago. The fear was children would face a rising tide of ill-health from obesity well into the future.

Plans for a sugar levy were outlined by the government in March of this year, where its introduction would gradually be phased in, eventually taking effect in 2018.

Sugar demands

sugar tax istock
The industry was challenged to cut children’s sugar intake by at least 20% by 2020. ©iStock

The government’s programme, ‘challenged’ the industry to cut children’s sugar intake by at least 20% by 2020, in products such as chocolate bars, cereals and deserts including a 5% reduction in year one.

The report also emphasised its plans to introduce a soft drinks industry levy across Britain stating that the government would excuse producers and importers from this tax if they took action now rather than wait for two years.

Along with sugar, the report called for reductions in calories that were not compensated for by increases in saturated fat. Work to achieve salt targets should also continue alongside the sugar reduction programme.

Delay tactics

supermarket discount price war
Restrictions on junk food promotions at supermarkets were not mentioned in the report. ©iStock

In March of this year the British government’s obesity strategy was delayed again as the government cited an incomplete strategy prior to its publication.  

A draft leaked in July suggested policies on advertising had been watered down. Subsequently, this report has made no mention of any measures to limit the marketing of high-salt, fat and sugar to children on television, online or on social media.

In addition, expected restrictions on junk food promotions at supermarkets and restaurants failed to materialise in the report.

The Obesity Health Alliance described the lack of action to protect children from junk food marketing as a ‘missed opportunity,’.

“Evidence shows that advertising of unhealthy food and drink makes it very difficult for children and their families to make healthy choices and greatly influences the food they eat,”​ said the Alliance, a coalition that is made up of 33 national charities, medical colleges and campaign groups.

“The evidence is compelling that we also need restrictions on the marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods,”​ added Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive.

“We need stronger action to protect children from junk food advertising if we want to make a difference. For the government to ignore these aspects is inexcusable."

Kumar pointed out that since the 2015 general election, the Government had championed the need for a comprehensive and robust strategy to tackle the growing obesity crisis, particularly for children.

Industry reaction

salt heart disease reformulation
The industry believed they recognised the responsibility in meeting reformulation challenges. ©iStock

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said food and drink manufacturers recognised its responsibility in meeting the challenges posed by obesity.

“Soft drink companies are already making great progress to reduce sugars from their products, having achieved a 16% reduction between 2012 and 2016,”​ he said.

“However the target set for sugars reduction in the Plan is flawed. Reformulation is difficult and costly: there are different challenges for each product; recipe change can only proceed at a pace dictated by consumers. We will continue to urge the Government to adopt a 'whole diet' approach.”

The British Soft Drink Association (BDSA) also responded to the report stating their disappointment that the Government proceeded with a measure which may cause thousands of job losses and have a meaningless impact on obesity levels.

“Our action on reformulation and smaller pack sizes is clearly working,”​ said Gavin Partington, BSDA director general.

“In 2015 we became the only category to set a voluntary calorie reduction target of 20% by 2020.  We also voluntarily extended the advertising rules regarding under 16s to all online media.”

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2 comments

wake up

Posted by john Smith,

Eating habits have very little to do with the problem, that is a simplistic approach by simple minds. The REAL problem is life style.Get their back sides away from computers and associated games, watch less tv, enroll them in sport, boy scouts and make them play like we used to and the problem will go away. The issue is that with modern life styles, 50 Calories a day are enough.In short; Unless lifestyle is changed, obesity will not disappear, believe me.

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"In the real World"

Posted by P Rogers,

As usual, blame someone else. The fact is that obesity is caused by eating too much. Reducing sugar etc. means that people will go on eating to excess, and obesity will remain a problem. Stop snacking between meals, and eat three times a day. Good enough in the past, and we were not obese!

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