Doubts over UK’s obesity strategy

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Campaigners want mandatory regulation of foods high in fat, sugar and salt
Campaigners want mandatory regulation of foods high in fat, sugar and salt

Related tags Nutrition

The decision to further delay publication of the government’s childhood obesity strategy has been met with dismay by health lobby groups that fear a policy closely associated with the last administration could be kicked into the long grass.

News emerged last month that the strategy, originally expected last year but delayed until after the EU referendum, would not now see the light of day until after the party conference season in the autumn.

Following reports that a draft strategy had been leaked last month, health groups, including the Children’s Food Campaign, the National Obesity Forum (NOF) and Action on Sugar, suspected further delays could be a prelude to the strategy being watered down and some aspects such as the sugar tax on soft drinks even abandoned.

Open to industry lobbying

Campaigners feared the new Conservative government, led by Theresa May, could be more open to industry lobbying on the impact of sugar taxes and restrictions on the marketing to children.

The Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) has called on the government to learn the lessons of what it considered failed previous attempts to reduce obesity in children through the voluntary Responsibility Deal for Food and Drink. But it feared there would be no firm commitments to bring in new rules on TV advertising during the programmes most watched by children; on the removal of confectionery at checkouts; and on the extension of existing marketing rules to cover brand characters, packaging and sponsorship, despite Public Health England recommendations that such measures were included.

“Letting the food and advertising industries set the terms of their commitments on tackling the marketing of junk food to children is no way to prioritise public health; nor is refusing to enact penalties for companies that don’t fully implement their commitments,” ​said CFC co-ordinator Malcolm Clark.

‘Alarmed by reports’

“We are alarmed by reports that the government appears to have given in to industry’s economically short-sighted demands for purely voluntary measures and a lack of firm commitments on restrictions on marketing to children and promotion of less healthy food and drink.”

Tam Fry, a spokesman for the NOF, said: “Brexit will undoubtedly be the Cameron legacy but if the NHS has to be rescued from collapse any time in the next decade, his six years of complete incompetence in tackling obesity should never be forgotten.

“Theresa May’s people now have the summer urgently to reverse Cameron’s failure and implement strategies proposed since 2010 Challenges must also be made to the industry’s marketing and advertising practices with legislation if necessary.”

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