The UK Childhood Obesity Plan was released on August 18 2016 to address the concerns around increasing levels of childhood obesity as well as recognizing the heavy governmental cost of overweight and obesity related disease. To read the full report, click here It has been slammed as ‘weak’, ‘ineffective’ and a ‘disaster’ !
It terms of addressing childhood obesity the plans focuses on 3 key areas: sugar reduction, sugar taxes and physical activity
A voluntarily reduction of the added sugar content of foods of 20% over the next 5 years with the initial focus on a number of commonly consumed food categories such as breakfast, cereals, yoghurts, cakes, puddings and ice-creams.
A sugar tax on soft drinks, levied on producers and importers, rather than consumers, though no details are yet given of the amount of this tax. The details of this tax will be refined in 2017.
It also sets outs plans to ensure primary school children have an hour of physical activity a day, involving schools as well as parents and carers.
It leaves out legislation on advertising and fast food promotion
In terms of what’s triggered the howls of outrage is the omission of any plans to restrict the advertising of sugary or junk foods to children as well as the failure to tackle the promotion of fast food, particularly 2 for 1 offers in supermarkets and the government has been accused of putting industry interests before the health of children. Both the advertising and promotion of junk food are critical areas which health professionals and campaigners feel could have a positive influence on childhood obesity levels.
I completely accept that as a parent I am responsible for the food my children eat, but it be nice to have a bit of help, particularly when my 24/7 halo slips occasionally and I find myself wearily saying ‘yes’. I would be literally jumping for joy not to be pestered for the breakfast cereals and biscuits which my children see advertised on television. I would love to walk into a supermarket and be greeted with 2 for 1 offers on fresh fruit. As for checkouts? If the only foods available around the checkouts were bowls of fresh fruit or raw vegetables as opposed to sweets and chocolate bars. It would be magical!
For Jamie Olivier’s great infographic, click here
It does not identify a clear strategy for improving food labeling and nutritional information, or improving the nutritional quality of food in the public sector and schools
There were also hopes that this plan would include proposals for clearer food labeling, particularly regarding the level of added sugar in foods. Once again ‘Rien’. It talks about clearer labeling in the future but falls short of mentioning specific proposals or setting any timelines.
The report recognizes the complexity of childhood obesity and how the burden falls more heavily on children from a low socio-economic status, an inequality which simply has to be addressed. While the report states that it will continue to provide food vouchers for poorer families and that it will ensure the public sector and schools will provide healthier food options, it does not give sufficient details as to how it can do this.
It has not just been watered down but drowned! The sugar reduction is reliant on the manufacturers’ goodwill and there’s two main issues. Reformulation is complicated and sugar is added not only for taste but also for its preservative and texturizing properties. The sugar will be need to be replaced with something (and – gasp – it can’t be fat!) so it’s likely to be some sort of filler or fibre. Good or bad for our health? Let’s see….
The other issue is that manufacturers like all businesses, do not want to see a negative impact on their bottom line because for example, their lower sugar reformulated foods are then less popular than their competitors. The voluntary deal needs to ideally involve all manufacturers and set common reformulation time lines.
The sugar tax is very vague and needs clarity to refine the amount of tax, the range of products which will be effected and the sugar percentage threshold above which products will be taxed.
As for physical activity? Fantastic for our health and well-being but very little evidence to support physical activity playing a key role in weight loss, even if it is supportive alongside with other strategies for weight control. And, the details are vague regarding how the government are going to support parents with adding 30 minutes of physical activity into their children’s day.
This 13 page report is flaky – full of ‘unformulated’ ideas and vague promises. I could have written it over a weekend with a bottle of wine inside me (!) It’s just that it could have been so very much more…
But, it is what is. A start. A hint of things to come that campaigners need to drive forward and ensure that its vague promises are clarified, formalised and included in future legislation.