Food and drink focus for child obesity strategy

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The childhood obesity strategy has been delayed until January 2016
The childhood obesity strategy has been delayed until January 2016

Related tags: sugar tax, Nutrition

Product reformulation, an advertising ban and restrictions on promotions are expected to be the main focus of the government’s childhood obesity strategy.

The strategy, which was expected before the end of 2015, has been delayed until January. Some sources suggested this was due to disagreement within government departments on the content.

The predictions came at the same time as a Public Health England (PHE) report calling on measures to reduce sugar was released following an outcry over a government decision to delay its publication. It backed TV chef Jamie Oliver’s calls for a sugar tax​ – possibly at a rate of up to 20% – to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks. It also made a range of recommendations, including a ban on advertising, which it believed would have a greater impact.

Industry stakeholders were called to a meeting with the authors of the PHE report on Wednesday October 28, where it was revealed there was little evidence that a sugar tax in the long-term would reduce calorie intake.

‘Pushed back by other departments’

Malcolm Clarke, co-ordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign, expressed concern about the intervention of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. “The Department of Health and health minister Jeremy Hunt are keen to do some things and are getting pushed back by other departments,”​ he claimed.

He predicted a crackdown on the 9pm TV watershed, more voluntary reformulation, with a threat of legislation unless there was progress, and controls on retail price promotions.

“On the sugar tax they may wait and look from the evidence of Mexico and France. In the meantime, they will keep it as a threat to manufacturers and retailers if they don’t improve their behaviour,”​ he said.

Professor Graham MacGregor, the chair of Action on Sugar, said: “There are rumours that David Cameron has stepped in. If he wants to tackle childhood obesity it needs to be a radical plan. If he doesn’t do this he will be hung, drawn and quartered.”

Promotion bans

MacGregor said that reformulation, a sugar tax, promotion bans on unhealthy products as well as restrictions on advertising would likely be covered.

He also raised the issue that the obesity plan “seems to be all about sugar”​ and said fat should be included as it is a more effective way to take calories out of the diet.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, thought it was “highly likely”​ there would be action on marketing to children.

He said: “We as an industry would support a tightening up of existing rules.”​ On sugar he said the industry had already taken “significant steps”​ to reduce calories and was prepared to take “further action”.

Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs at the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Obesity will only be beaten by a partnership involving government, the NHS and health professionals, schools, retailers, restaurants and food and drink manufacturers.”

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