The government should set out plans to reduce portion sizes and regulate deep discounting and price promotions on the sales of unhealthy food and drink, it urged.
Such actions would do far more to combat obesity than the “vague statements about looking to further levers” set out in the government’s childhood obesity plan published last summer.
“Although we welcome the measures the government has included in the childhood obesity plan, we are extremely disappointed that several key areas for action that could have made the strategy more effective have not been included,” the report noted.
“The government has stated that it will ‘look to further levers’ if the plan does not achieve the necessary impact. We call on ministers to set clear targets for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity as well as goals for reducing the unacceptable and widening levels of inequality.”
‘Widening levels of inequality’
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said although retailers were careful about unhealthy promotions, further action might be required.
BRC director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said: “Meeting customers every day, retailers know how important health and nutrition are to them, which is why UK retailers have led the way in reformulating products to remove fats and sugars as well as providing clear labelling using the UK recommended front-of-pack scheme and promoting healthier options.
“Further action is required though. Retailers already very carefully consider promotion in store and, knowing that health is a consideration for consumers, have their own internal rules on their use.
‘Regulation could be the only real way forward’
“There will only be real change if all food businesses adopt the approach taken by retailers, which means regulation could be the only real way forward.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health insisted voluntary action was proving successful, and regulation would be introduced only if existing measures became ineffective.
Parliamentary under secretary of state for public health and innovation Nicola Blackwood said: “We welcome the committee’s recognition of the progress we have made in this area, delivering the most ambitious plan on childhood obesity in the world. It is backed by the soft drinks industry levy as well as the most comprehensive reformulation programme of its kind, anywhere.
“Voluntary approaches have been shown to be very effective, but as we have repeatedly said, we have not ruled out further measures if results are not seen.”
Earlier this year DWF partner Dominic Watkin told the Food Manufacture Group’s Business Leaders’ Forum 2017 that the sugar tax was a “blunt instrument” to combat childhood obesity.
Don’t miss Watkins’ exclusive video interview with FoodManufacture.co.uk, filmed at the forum in January.