Among other things, the report, which was published on Wednesday (30 May), called for a ban on junk food aimed at children and adding milk-based drinks to the sugar tax.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) was supportive of the Government’s interest in tackling obesity, having long called for a ‘whole systems’ approach to tackling the problem.
FDF director of corporate affairs Tim Rycroft said: “Obesity is a hugely complex problem and government must invest in targeted measures to help those people and areas most affected by such issues.”
Rycroft highlighted the work that food and drink manufacturers had already undertaken to reformulate their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt. However, he warned against government challenging how producers could communicate these changes.
“Any restrictions which would prevent them from communicating these changes effectively, whether that be to advertising or to promotions, would undermine the work they are currently engaged in.”
Disastrous for the dairy industry
While generally supportive of the actions laid out in the plan, Dairy UK warned that the proposal to add milk-based drinks to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy would prove disastrous for the dairy industry.
Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, said: “This would have a detrimental impact on the marketing of high-quality, safe and nutritious dairy products – products that are nutritionally beneficial to children rather than being harmful.
“Milk and dairy products are proven sources of vitamins, making dairy an important part of a healthy, balanced, affordable and sustainable diet. Regrettably, because of the way the Nutrient Profiling Model has been developed dairy products end up being penalised alongside junk foods.”
Dairy UK would be engaging with Public Health England, the UK Government and other relevant stakeholders to explain why the new Nutrient Profiling Modelling should exclude products containing over 75% milk, cheese or yogurt, added Bryans.
The Farmer’s Union of Wales (FUW) echoed similar misgivings over the proposed inclusion of milk-based drinks to the Soft Drinks Levy. It warned that the measures could have detrimental and far-reaching implications for the Welsh dairy sector.
Detrimental and far-reaching implications
It called sugary soft drinks and nutritional milk drinks incomparable and that adding them to the list of products levied in the sugar tax inappropriate.
FUW milk and dairy produce chairman Dai Miles said: “It is the belief of the FUW that the Nutrient Profiling Modelling undertaken has done a tremendous disservice to nutritional milk products and could detrimentally affect the ways in which such products are viewed by the consumer.”
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) welcomed the committee’s report, which supported a number of recommendations it had already made to counter childhood obesity. These included restricting promotions on high in fat, salt and sugar foods and giving powers to local authorities to limit the proliferation of fast food outlets.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “The UK is in the grip of an obesity epidemic and it is absolutely right that the Health and Social Care Committee have called on the government to prioritise stronger action to protect our children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
“The Government must move to enact a wider package of measures to reshape the obesogenic environment as an urgent health inequalities issue.”
Proposals in the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s report
- A ‘whole systems’ approach— implementing a joined-up, ‘whole systems’ approach, including a Cabinet-level committee to review the implementation of the childhood obesity plan, with mandatory reporting across all departments.
- Marketing and advertising— A 9pm watershed on junk food advertising and a ban on brand generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote high fat, sugar and salt products
- Price promotions — restrict discounting and price promotions and on removing confectionery and other less healthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts
- Early years and schools— further measures around early years and the first 1,000 days of life, including setting targets to improve rates of breastfeeding, to combat childhood obesity, and urge a full and timely implementation of all of the school-centred measures contained in the original 2016 Child Obesity Action Plan.
- Takeaways— make it easier for local authorities to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas.
- Fiscal measures— extend the soft drinks industry levy to milk-based drinks. The next Government childhood obesity plan must signal that further fiscal measures are being designed to encourage reformulation of products where targets are not being met.
- Labelling—Current progress on labelling in the UK is reliant on voluntary commitments and is therefore not universally applied. Calorie labelling at point of food choice for the out-of-home food sector would provide basic information to enable healthier choices.
- Services for children living with obesity— put robust systems in place to not only identify children who are overweight or obese, but to ensure that these children are offered effective help in a multidisciplinary approach, and that service provision extends to their families.