The National Institute for Health Research Obesity Policy Research Unit has been set up to be a resource for long-term research into childhood obesity.
Operating from University College London (UCL), the unit will seek to give independent advice to policy makers and analysts – as well as evaluate action taken so far.
It will aim to develop an understanding of childhood obesity by looking at social inequalities, the early years of childhood, and food industry marketing.
The unveiling of the unit coincided with Public Health England’s (PHE’s) announcement last month that it is to focus on overall calorie consumption, rather than just sugar, in the next stage of its childhood obesity plan.
Ready meals, pizzas and burgers
Ready meals, pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches have been earmarked by PHE as the types of foods likely to be included in the programme.
PHE said it would reveal its findings on the link between excess calorie intake and childhood obesity in early 2018.
It would then consult with food manufacturers and health organisations on voluntary reduction targets.
Russell Viner, Policy Research Unit director, and professor of adolescent health at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said obesity levels among children and young people presented “a significant, long-term challenge”.
Therefore, reducing calorie consumption was critical to reversing the “worrying obesity trend”, he claimed.
Research unit focus
- Social inequalities
- The early years of childhood
- Food industry marketing
‘One of the greatest health concerns’
“Obesity is one of the greatest health concerns of our time and we welcome this considerable and very timely investment from the government.
“Preventing obesity in early life is key to turning the tide on this modern epidemic,” Viner added.
Philip Dunne, minister of state for health, said: “We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and focus on excess calories.”
He added: “This can only be done through strong guidance, grounded in evidence. That’s why we have funded a new £5M dedicated policy research unit.”
The first stage of the childhood obesity plan was launched in August 2016and led to a voluntary 20% sugar reduction target being placed on nine key food groups by 2020.
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