The government has finally released its childhood obesity strategy after months of delay, but the strategy has been widely condemned by experts as being “weak” and “embarrassing”.
The strategy, which was due to be published last year, builds on the introduction of a sugar tax made by then chancellor George Osborne in March.
A key measure of the new strategy is the introduction of a voluntary target for the food and drink industry to reduce sugar in products by 20 per cent. Manufacturers that adhere to these guidelines will escape a sugar tax, which is due to be implemented in 2018.
The money raised by this levy will be used to fund new breakfast clubs that ensure primary school children exercise for an hour each day.
The British Medical Association (BMA) called this target “pointless”, and Professor Parveen Kumar, the BMA board of science chair, says the government has “rowed back on its promises by announcing what looks like a weak plan rather than the robust strategy it promised.
“Although the government proposes targets for food companies to reduce the level of sugar in their products, the fact that these are voluntary and not backed up by regulatio, renders them pointless,” Kumar said.
‘No bold action’
A major complaint among campaigners is that Public Health England (PHE) failed to include two measures in the strategy that it had previously recommended.
PHE had highlighted the need for cut-price promotions of junk food to be banned in supermarkets, and for restricted advertising of junk food to children through television, social media and websites. But neither measure appears in this new strategy.
Jenny Rosborough, Action on Sugar, has called on Prime Minister Theresa May to step in and salvage the strategy.
“Theresa May launched her prime minister campaign by saying that she wanted to tackle health inequalities, obesity being a major factor in this,” she said.
“The UK should lead the world in tackling obesity and type 2 diabetes and this is an embarrassing and inexcusable waste of a fantastic opportunity to put the nation’s health first.”
Professor Neena Modi, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, added that the strategy provides “no bold action and instead relies on physical activity, personal responsibility and voluntary product reformulation”.
What is included in the strategy?
PHE will also set targets for sugar content for 100g and calorie caps for certain products; report on whether the industry is reducing sugar content through this new voluntary scheme; and conduct a “healthy schools rating scheme”.
However, given that the strategy is, in essence, an elaboration of the sugar tax, it’s easy to understand why experts are exasperated, with Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of the charity Cancer Research UK, calling the strategy a “missed opportunity” to combat childhood obesity.
The Obesity Health Alliance added that the plan fell “disappointingly short of what is needed”, and was saddened to hear that initial proposals were “significantly watered down or removed entirely”.

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