National drive to reduce childhood obesity criticised by Commons Health Committee

Benedict Jephcote
Mon, 27 Mar 2017
National drive to reduce childhood obesity criticised by Commons Health Committee
The government is missing important opportunities to tackle childhood obesity and needs to introduce bold new measures, a new parliamentary report has claimed.

Moves by ministers to curb the consumption of unhealthy foods by children are failing, a review of the national strategy to combat childhood obesity has concluded.

The report by the Commons Health Committee is now calling for a tougher approach, including putting sanctions in place to control 'deep discounting' of high fat, high sugar foods by supermarkets.

The government's childhood obesity strategy was released in August, but the committee said many measures have so far not been implemented with many proposals by MPs rejected.

The committee did praise the sugar tax on the soft drinks industry, but it did conclude that it was: "extremely disappointed that several key areas for action that could have made the strategy more effective have not been included."

However, another major initiative that has come out of the strategy, moves to reduce sugar content in children's food and drink is only optional and so far no penalties have been introduced.

Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the committee, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the Government has rejected a number of our recommendations. These omissions mean that the current plan misses important opportunities to tackle childhood obesity.

"Vague statements about seeing how the current plan turns out are inadequate to the seriousness and urgency of this major public health challenge."

Nicola Blackwood, public health minister, responded: "We welcome the committee's recognition of the progress we have made in this area, delivering the most ambitious plan on childhood obesity in the world.

"It is backed by the soft drinks industry levy as well as the most comprehensive reformulation programme of its kind, anywhere.

"Voluntary approaches have been shown to be very effective, but as we have repeatedly said, we have not ruled out further measures if results are not seen."

The proposals made by MPs not featured in the childhood obesity strategy included controlling supermarket promotions, tighter restrictions on junk food marketing and advertising as well as giving councils a greater ability to improve the environment in a bid to encourage physical activity.

The strategy also did not include plans for better education about healthy eating and diet and clearer labelling for food and drinks, the committee said.

Now the committee wants a series of bolder actions, including curbs to promotions offering keep in check offers in shops, restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

The committee said: "Retailers who act responsibly on discounting and promotions should not be put at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not."
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