The government has rejected calls from Labour to consider introducing legal limits on fat, sugar and salt in food aimed at children, insisting that its plans to tackle obesity are working effectively.
The Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) ‒ agreed with the food industry to improve the nation’s diet ‒ showed a voluntary strategy can be successful, said the Department of Health (DoH).
But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, said: “The government has failed to come up with a convincing plan to tackle this challenge [of childhood obesity].”
Burnham highlighted recent research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which revealed that 26.6% of UK girls and 22.7% of boys arre considered overweight or obese.
‘Shock us out of our complacency’
“The findings of the OECD should shock us out of our complacency. It is clear that the current voluntary approach is not working,” said Burnham.
“We need to open our minds to new approaches in tackling child obesity. If we fail to act on the OECD’s warning we are storing up huge problems for the country and the National Health Service in the long term.”
Burnham also highlighted a report from the National Child Measurement Programme last month, which claimed one third of children in England are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
The Food and Drink Federation said the partnership between the food and drink industry and government was proving successful.
‘Significant progress in reducing salt’
"Through voluntary commitments, manufacturers have made significant progress in reducing salt, saturated fat and calories in their products,” said a spokesman.
“Salt levels have reduced 9% since 2006 and some manufacturers have introduced calorie caps in particular for snacks and soft drinks."
A DoH spokesman told the BBC: "Our successes so far clearly demonstrate that the voluntary approach can work and we now have over 400 partners in the responsibility deal.
"We are working to reduce the amount of salt in food further, cut saturated fat consumption and we are exploring how to promote healthier food choices more widely. We also want more businesses making pledges so we get bigger results."
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC News that while the PHRD had delivered significant cuts in the salt, fat and sugar content of supermarket foods, legislation could not be ruled out.
“The reality is that supermarkets and the food manufacturers need to understand that we do reserve the right to legislate.
"This is not a problem we can just wish away. If we don't meet our targets and continue to make the progress that we have to make, then we would consider legislation.”
But, he added voluntary agreements had delivered much faster progress that would have been achieved by legislation.
Meanwhile, this week Labour will publish a policy review document titled ‘Children, food and obesity’, on tackling child obesity. The document will explain the case for new maximum permitted levels of fat, sugar and salt in food aimed at children.