Labour accuses Government of ‘tinkering around the edges’ with health app

·3-min read

The Government has been accused of “tinkering around the edges” with its plans for an app to reward people for eating better and exercising more.

Labour also said that “tackling obesity is about tackling poverty” and called on the Government to bring back the £20 Universal Credit uplift, as the party said its end will push people towards “cheaper, less healthy alternatives”.

From January 2022, a pilot of the new health app will see users wearing wrist-worn devices giving them personalised health advice, such as increasing their step count, eating more fruit and vegetables and decreasing portion size.

They will collect points for healthy behaviour, unlock rewards such as gym passes, clothes or food vouchers and discounts for shops, cinema and theme park tickets.

Fruit stock
The app will promote eating more fruit and vegetables (Nick Ansell/PA)

But as vaccines minister Maggie Throup laid out the plans in the Commons, Labour shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “Like the obesity strategy that precedes this latest pilot, this is tinkering around the edges.”

He added: “Tackling obesity is about tackling poverty.

“You are twice as likely to be obese in the poorest communities as you are in the best off.

“Your food choices, your exercise choices, your time.

“Why does this not feature at the heart of the Government’s plans to tackle this scourge?

“Let’s be very clear: whatever this pilot achieves, whatever the obesity strategy achieves, they will all get knocked into cocked hat by the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit.

“This will push millions of people into cheaper, less healthy alternatives.”

The vaccines minister replied: “I think by the Government’s measures already of allocating £100 million to tackle obesity shows that we are serious about this.

“It is a huge amount of money.”

She also pointed to existing policies like the soft drinks levy, adding: “I think it is important that we realise that lots of different measures have already been put in place.

“This is not tinkering at the edges at all.”

MPs also called on the Government to do more to tackle childhood obesity, with Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt saying this was “even more worrying than adult obesity” and that the UK was still the “second fattest country in Europe” in this area.

In a question to the minister, he asked: “Has she had any discussion with the Department for Education about one of the root causes of this, which is for several decades now we have not guaranteed daily sport and exercise to every child in every state school?”

Labour MP Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) called for a “recommitment to sport in back in our schools”, in particular for girls and young women.

Ms Throup said: “I am yet to have a meeting with the Department for Education but it is high on my agenda, but tackling childhood obesity is definitely a number one priority for me, as it has been for a number of years.”

Coronavirus – Tue Oct 19, 2021
Sajid Javid stressed the importance of tackling health disparities (Toby Melville/PA)

Outside the Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new pilot of the app would “pave the way for developing innovative ways to improve the lives of individuals, and also help to reduce strain on the NHS”.

The Department of Health and Social Care will pump £3 million into the scheme, which will be delivered by firm HeadUp in a yet-to-be-announced location in England over six months.

HeadUp said it will work with a number of organisations to provide the rewards, as evidence suggests financial incentives can improve rates of physical activity and inspire healthier eating.

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