The childhood obesity crisis is likely to become far worse unless the government stops the sale of discounted junk food and prevents advertising of unhealthy snacks before the watershed, MPs have said.
Last August the government set out its Childhood Obesity Plan which included a sugar tax on soft drinks but stopped short of implementing further measures called for by the Health Select Committee.
In a new report published today, the Committee said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ by the government’s plan, which it criticised as ‘vague’ and ignoring of the seriousness and urgency of the problem.
As well as a ban on junk food discounting and advertising before 9pm, the committee had also called for penalties for companies who refused to bring down sugar content, clearer labelling, and stronger powers for local authorities to stop too many fast-food outlets opening in an area.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Government has rejected a number of our recommendations,” said Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, the Chair of the Health Select Committee.
“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.
“The Government must set clear goals for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity as well as goals for reducing the unacceptable and widening levels of inequality.”
A record percentage of children now have weight problems with one in three overweight or obese, by the time they leave primary school at the age of 10 or 11. Studies have shown that being overweight in childhood makes future health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, far more likely and places a huge burden on the NHS.
Under the government’s plan, from 2018 a sugar tax will be imposed on drinks which have more than 5g of sugar per 100m, which would add around 7p to can of Coca-cola.
Food companies have also signed up to a voluntary agreement to reduce sugar content by 2020, but there are no sanctions or penalties if they fail to do so.
Health experts and charities agreed that without tougher measures to prevent childhood obesity youngsters were facing a future of illness and unhappiness.
Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “The fight against obesity is going to be long and hard – and the Health Committee is right; without action across a number of areas, any impact of individual policies will be minimal.
“It was an error for Government to exclude TV junk food advertising restrictions in their Obesity Plan.
“We know these adverts have an effect on the type of food children consume, and experts from across the health sector, parents and the Health Select Committee agree that a ban prior to the 9pm watershed is vital to help tackle the obesity crisis.”
Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy and Innovation at the Health Foundation, added: “The government’s strategy on childhood obesity misses important opportunities to tackle root causes of this crisis.
“Without a more ambitious plan that shows true leadership, the childhood obesity crisis will continue to put at risk the health and happiness of today’s children and future generations.”
However the government said it had was implementing ‘the most ambitious plan on childhood obesity in the world’
Public health minister Nicola Blackwood added:”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."
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