Compulsory calorie counts in restaurants and mile-long runs for primary pupils as Government vows to halve child obesity

Laura Donnelly
The government has drawn up plans to tackle childhood obesity - PA

Restaurants, cafes and takeaway outlets will be forced to display calorie counts under new Government plans which aim to halve levels of childhood obesity within 12 years.

The new measures will also including asking every primary school to introduce schemes to boost children’s activity, such as the Daily Mile, an initiative which sees pupils run for 15 minutes a day, on top of regular PE lessons.

Children could also be banned from buying sugary energy drinks - which can contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee - under the plans.

A quarter of children aged six to nine are now consuming energy drinks. Ministers said “dangerous overconsumption” combined with inactive lifestyles was having "a catastrophic effect on our children’s health,” which could cut lives short.

The new plans will see a consultation on the introduction of "clear, consistent calorie labelling" on menus in restaurants, cafés and takeaways.

Research shows one in five meals are consumed outside the home, with today’s children spending at least twice as much time eating out as those who grew up in the 1970s.

Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England (PHE), said: “Having a takeaway or eating out is no longer a treat, it’s a regular part of everyday life, yet too often menus are information free zones." 

The new target - to halve the number of children classed as obese by 2030 - was welcomed by health officials, who said the measures were bold enough to reverse Britain’s epidemic.

It’s estimated that around 1.4 million children aged between 2 and 15 are currently considered obese in England. Therefore, meeting this ambitious target would mean approximately 700,000 fewer obese children.

The plans, which will be subject to consultation, follow a childhood obesity strategy in 2016 which was heavily criticised by campaigners after being significantly watered down.

Simply consulting about the nations biggest public health crisis is not going to save lives

Action on Sugar

The plans will also see a ban on advertising of unhealthy foods on television before the 9pm watershed, and the removal of such goods from checkouts and two-for-one deals. 

Milk-based drinks such as milkshakes and lattes could be covered by the Government’s sugar tax, if manufacturers do not do enough to cut their sugar content, the plans say.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Parents want what is best for their children, but keeping them healthy and active can be difficult.

“It is near impossible to shield children from exposure to unhealthy foods. Parents are asking for help – we know that over three quarters of parents find offers for sugary sweets and snacks at checkouts annoying. It’s our job to give power to parents to make healthier choices, and to make their life easier in doing so,” he said.

Under the plans, supermarkets will be told to get rid of “guilt lanes” that see weary parents pestered by children to buy chocolate and sweets while queuing for the checkout.

The Daily Mile: Is this the solution to the child obesity crisis?

Officials said the removal of unhealthy foods from buy-one-get-one-free deals was also an attempt to mitigate “pester power”.

It follows warnings that obesity has become “the new smoking” in terms of the health risks being posed to the population.

Almost a tenth of the health service budget is now taken up treating diabetes, with the majority of cases fuelled by excess weight.

The consultation on banning advertisements for unhealthy food before the 9pm watershed follows research which found that watching one extra junk food advertisement a week means children eat an additional 18,000 calories a year.

Current rules mean junk food cannot be marketed during programmes specifically made for children, but there are no restrictions on placing such advertisements during the most popular family viewing, such as the X-Factor.

The plans to restrict advertising of unhealthy foods to children will cover online platforms, amid concern that junk food adverts on Google, YouTube and social networks are not properly regulated.

Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive of the Advertising Association, welcomed the proposed introduction of the Daily Mile, but added: "International experience and independent research has shown advertising bans have little impact on the wider societal issues that drive obesity, which is caused by the interaction of many complex factors and requires a multi-faceted solution."

The updated plan also promotes a new national ambition for every primary school to adopt a daily ‘active mile’ initiative, such as the Daily Mile, a scheme which a number of schools have adopted across the UK, since it was dreamt up by a headteacher in a Scottish primary school in 2012.

The measures will also see £620,000 funding for projects which encourage children to walk to school, and £1 million to support cycling training.

Obesity rates have been increasing across the world

Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said the measures have the potential to "turn the tables on the Type 2 diabetes time bomb we currently sit upon" and urged the Government to make the plans a reality.

But Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said it did not go far enough. "It clearly lacks firm commitment and only promises consultations by the end of the year," he said.

"What’s missing is a fully joined up action based campaign which includes: uniform traffic light labels on out of home food rather than just calorie labelling, mandatory reformulation on sugar and calories, a tax on confectionery or unhealthy food with the opportunity to reformulate and only healthy products (not high in fat, salt and sugar) should be marketed across all platforms, including TV, digital and print marketing.

"Simply consulting about the nations biggest public health crisis is not going to save lives.”

Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England said: “This series of measures will undoubtedly help shift the balance towards a healthier environment.”