Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and a spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, has called on government to negotiate with the food industry a timescale of perhaps five to seven years to reformulate its products to reduce levels of fat, sugar and salt.
If companies fail to meet these targets they should be hit with hefty fines that cannot be passed on to customers, he argued. “All these things are done by discussion,” said Fry. “When discussion isn’t getting you anywhere, you’ve got to have the stick.”
Fry added: “The Public Health Responsibility Deal (PHRD) is not working because industry feels there is no pressure to reformulate.” And, while he is against taxing foods with HFSS because this would disproportionately hit the poor, he thinks governments have been too lenient on the industry.
‘Caused by the industry’
He is strongly against relaxing the pressure on industry to reduce levels of fats, sugar and salt. “It is undeniable that a lot of the [obesity] problem is caused by industry overloading their products with high levels of fat, salt and sugar.”
Fry was speaking after Public Health England (PHE) released the latest results from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), which showed obesity levels in four-and five-year-old children had levelled out and levels in 10-and 11-year-olds had stabilised for the first time since it was set up in 2005.
However, he argued that, while welcome, these figures masked a deteriorating situation among more vulnerable groups and children that were already obese. “These figures disguise the fact that obese children are getting more obese and earlier in their lives,” he claimed. “And the gap between obesity at school entry and school exit is not narrowing.”
The latest annual figures from the NCMP, which surveyed over 1M children, show obesity levels in four-to five-year-olds at 9.3%, compared with 9.5% in 2011 to 2012. Levels in 10-to 11-year-olds are at 18.9%, compared with 19.2% in 2011 to 2012 for the first time since the programme started.
‘Gap in obesity rates’
PHE did, however, note a gap in obesity rates between the most deprived and the least deprived children, with rates in the most deprived areas double that of the least deprived (12.1% versus 6.4% for four to five year olds, and 24.2% versus 13% for 10-to 11-year-olds).
Professor Kevin Fenton, national director for health and wellbeing at PHE, said: “This levelling off in obesity levels in both these age groups is really promising. We will be monitoring these trends very closely to see if this can be maintained over future years and have an impact on overall obesity levels in the population.”
PHE will publish a more detailed analysis in early 2014, to look at the reasons behind the findings.