Members of the Obesity Health Alliance, a campaign group which formed last November to tackle obesity, have expressed concern about the increased risks to children’s health caused by the delay of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy.
The Government’s strategy has already been delayed for months but the Department of Health yesterday (Thursday 25 February) confirmed that it will not be published until the summer, after the European referendum. With almost two thirds of adults and almost a third of children in the UK overweight or obese, members of the Alliance have warned that every day without an effective strategy in place means that the obesity time bomb is ticking, and that opportunities are being missed to protect the health and wellbeing of children and their families.
The group members say it is vital that the Prime Minister shows strong leadership, and calls on the Government to take urgent steps to address the obesity crisis. Being overweight or obese poses significant risk factors for serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, a range of cancers and poor mental health. These conditions have a devastating impact on our nation’s health and also place a huge financial burden on the NHS.
The Obesity Health Alliance has set out three key actions (see below) that it wants the Government to implement in its Childhood Obesity Strategy as a priority so that it is easier for people to make healthier choices and live healthier lives. This includes targets for food manufacturers to reduce the amount of saturated fat, salt and added sugar in their foods, meaningful restrictions to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink marketing, and a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened beverages.
Chris Askew, Diabetes UK Chief Executive, said: “It’s disappointing that the Government has once again delayed the publication of its Childhood Obesity Strategy. Every day that goes by without tough new measures to deal with the obesity crisis means that more children are going to be at risk of developing serious, and preventable, health conditions in later life such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. This is why we are calling on the Government to implement an effective Childhood Obesity Strategy to address the obesity crisis as a matter of urgency. This must include setting targets for manufacturers to make their products healthier; restricting marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children; and introducing a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. Without action we will continue to see high rates of devastating health conditions and increased costs to our already stretched health service.”
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.”
Alison Cox, Director of Prevention at Cancer Research UK said, “David Cameron has called children’s obesity a crisis and yet the Government has failed the next generation by stalling on one of their own health priorities. While the Government delays, more children will become obese. Our survey shows people want the Government to act to fight children’s obesity — 8 out of 10 think it’s a problem. To help prevent thousands of cancer cases we want a ban on junk food ads during family viewing times, a sugary drinks tax and more sugar taken out of food. The future health of our children depends on strong action right now. Every day counts.”
Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “With every day that passes, more children are at risk of developing serious conditions associated with obesity. These include type two diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. So yet another delay in the publication of Government’s childhood obesity strategy gives great cause for concern. We call on Government to give a definitive date, and urge them to publish their strategy sooner rather than later; before more children fall foul of this terrible condition.”
Professor John Wass, the Royal College of Physicians’ Special Adviser on Obesity, said: ‘The delay in publishing the strategy is extremely disappointing, and a hugely missed opportunity to save lives, improve patient care and save NHS funds.’
Professor John Ashton, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: “We are disappointed that a strategy to tackle childhood obesity has been further delayed. A duty on sugary drinks would prevent over 300,000 cases of obesity among children and adults each month. Children only have one chance at a good start in life, and so we all need to each play our part in protecting their health.”
Obesity Health Alliance three key actions:
- The Government should introduce a ban on advertisements before the 9pm watershed for food and drink products that are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Alongside this, regulation governing on-demand services and online advertisements should be tightened to align with broadcast regulations.
- The Government should take action to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) by introducing a 20 per cent tax on SSBs. The impact of this tax should be monitored and evaluated annually with revenue raised reinvested in public health promotion.
- The Government should develop an independent set of incremental reformulation targets for industry, backed by regulation and which are measured and time bound. These targets should address salt, sugar and saturated fat levels. Compliance with these targets should be monitored and non-compliance should be backed by meaningful sanctions.
Notes to editor:
- The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) is a new coalition of 28 national organisations which have come together to represent the unified voice of the public health sector on issues relating to overweight and obesity in the UK. We seek to share expertise and to support government in tackling the complex issue of overweight and obesity.
- The membership of the OHA currently comprises: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Action on Sugar, Association for the Study of Obesity, Association of Directors of Public Health, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, British Heart Foundation, British Medical Association, British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society, British Society of Gastroenterology, Cancer Research UK, Children’s Food Campaign, Diabetes UK, Faculty of Public Health, Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, Health Equalities Group, Institute for Health Visiting, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, National Obesity Forum, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Surgeons, Royal Society for Public Health, Society for Endocrinology, and UK Health Forum.
- The OHA is the first coalition of its size to support the long term goal of tackling obesity across the life course, and we are growing. Our organisations are diverse and bring a wealth of expertise, spanning the medical, nursing, charity, and public health fields. United, we represent the views of hundreds of thousands of health professionals and public health experts across the UK.
- The OHA has produced a joint position statement which outlines ten urgent population-level policy interventions for government, retailers and health professionals. We believe these measures, implemented in conjunction, will reduce rates of overweight and obesity and address the social inequality and cultural differences in overweight and obesity prevalence. This is accessible at: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/new-alliance-obesity-outlines-priorities-action