The Obesity Health Alliance says the measures announced today are far from an ambitious strategy and let down the next generation who will pay the price for the Government’s failure to take strong action. The measures on their own will not tackle the obesity crisis and are not sufficient to reduce the rising toll of ill-health, premature deaths and unsustainable costs to the NHS.
The Alliance, a coalition of 33 leading national charities, Medical Royal Colleges, and campaign groups say that even after delaying publication for a whole year, the Government has fallen far short of what is needed and is failing to take the necessary measures to tackle childhood obesity.
While the launch of the Government’s soft drinks industry levy consultation is a bold and positive step forward, the plan outlined today lacks ambition and will fail to tackle childhood obesity as promised in the Government’s manifesto.
The Obesity Health Alliance’s key concerns include:
- The Government has missed an opportunity to take action to protect children from junk food marketing — despite there being clear evidence of the impact advertising has on their food choices. The group say the Government must remove junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed to reduce exposure to children. This is because 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.
- The Government’s plan to introduce voluntary targets for food manufacturers to reduce the amount of added sugar falls well short of what is needed. The 20% sugar reduction target will not be sufficient to meet the Government’s own recommended level of free sugars making up no more than 5% of total energy intake. The Alliance say the previous Responsibility Deal demonstrated that we can’t rely on industry to do this on their own so there must be penalties issued for non-compliance. Many everyday foods are loaded with added salt, fat and sugar so setting targets for food manufacturers to reduce the amount of these nutrients in their products would make it far easier for people to eat more healthily. Making these targets regulatory is necessary to create a level playing field and ensure no manufacturer is penalised.
In a joint statement the Obesity Health Alliance said: “The Government’s plan is underwhelming and a missed opportunity to tackle the obesity crisis and its devastating burden on the health of both society and the NHS.
“We live in an environment where children and their families are bombarded by junk food advertising and many everyday foods and drinks are stuffed full of fat and sugar. This is fuelling the huge numbers of children we are seeing who are overweight and obese, and therefore at great risk of serious health conditions in adult life such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancer as well as associated mental health problems. These conditions are not only personally devastating but are costly and pose a real threat to the sustainability of our already overstretched health service.
“This is why we need strong and bold Government action to make it as easy as possible for children and their families to make healthier choices and lead healthier lives. While the launch of the soft drinks industry levy consultation is an important step, the Government’s plan falls disappointingly short of what is needed. In particular, there is strong evidence that shows that targets, backed by regulation, for the food and drinks industry to make their products healthier and removing junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed would have a huge impact on reducing levels of obesity so it is very disappointing to see that both of these measures have been significantly watered down or removed entirely.
“These measures are critical to protecting public health and alleviating the devastating impact of obesity on the nation’s finances and they have strong support from the public. With the new school term approaching, one in three children will be starting secondary school overweight or obese. The Government cannot afford to shy away from this challenge. For the sake of the health of our children we need strong action right now.”