Health leaders are calling the government’s much delayed childhood obesity plan a “missed opportunity” as key actions are excluded.
Childhood obesity: a plan for action, released today, includes a voluntary measure for manufacturers to cut the sugar in children’s foods and drinks by 20%, and a move to get every primary school child exercising for an hour each day.
However, the report failed to include measures to restrict junk food advertising and marketing before the watershed and ban on price-cutting promotions of junk food in supermarkets.
Professor Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said: “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 regulation, renders them pointless.
She added that it was “disappointing” to see no restrictions on food manufacturers “bombarding” children with marketing.
While many praised the sugar tax announced by George Osborne in March, Dr Jo Bibby, director of strategy at the Health Foundation, said the plan as a whole is “unambitious” and will fail to relieve pressure on health services.
She added: “The scale of the problem demands a society-wide response from all sectors and at all levels. The failure to take tough action on food advertising and promotion is a major gap.
“This is a missed opportunity to show leadership and do what only governments can do, for which children, their families, the NHS and ultimately the economy will pay the price.”
The government’s plan to get more primary school children exercising every day will see a boost in funding to school sports and breakfast clubs, subsidised by a tax on sugary drinks that will come into effect in April 2018.
However, this aspect of the strategy has come under attack from the shadow health secretary Diane Abbott, who says the extra £10 million “amounts to as little as £1.28 per pupil per year”.
She said: “This is a missed opportunity from the Tory Government. This report has been delayed three times, and is a woefully inadequate response.
“Obesity is ruining the quality of life for growing numbers of people, starting with children. In 2014/15 the Department of Health spent £5.1 billion on obesity related illnesses alone."
Schools will also be assessed on their healthiness during school inspections, including an evaluation of how they are making their students more active.
The report also says that Public Health England (PHE) will advise the Government on setting sugar targets per 100g of product and caps on calories for specific single serving products from March 2017.