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RSPH: Food industry has “significant role” in tackling childhood obesity

The food industry has a “a significant role to play in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic” and must step up and take action to improve children's health, Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) said today.

This comes after a petition started by Jamie Oliver and Sustain, a charity for health-enhancing food and agriculture policy, has received more than 151,000 signatures. The petition will be discussed by the Health Committee, and then by government this afternoon.

Cramer (pictured) urged that the government be “brave and decisive on the issue of childhood obesity to ensure today's children do not become a burden on tomorrow's NHS”.

She said: “It is welcome that the Health Select Committee have identified that the food industry has a significant role to play in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic, and it would be unacceptable for it to shirk its responsibilities now. We need tough action on pricing, reformulation and promotion for unhealthy food and drink, particularly those high in sugar.  We can't shrug off the most pressing public health challenge facing us.

“We also believe it's time inexcusable health inequalities condemning the poorest children in society to a much greater chance of suffering from obesity were eradicated,” the health expert added.

The Petitions Committee referred the petition to the Health Committee, which took evidence from the petitioners as part of its inquiry into childhood obesity.

Cramer said: “The government needs to be brave and decisive on the issue of childhood obesity to ensure today's children do not become a burden on tomorrow's NHS.  It is welcome that the Health Select Committee have identified that the food industry has a significant role to play in tackling the childhood obesity epidemic, and it would be unacceptable for it to shirk its responsibilities now. We need tough action on pricing, reformulation and promotion for unhealthy food and drink, particularly those high in sugar. We can't shrug off the most pressing public health challenge facing us.”

Similarly, Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Health Committee, said she is “delighted” that Jamie Oliver's petition is being debated today.

The Health Committee's report, which was published today, urges the Prime Minister to put forward a 20% tax on sugary soft drinks, and that all proceeds should be clearly directed to help to improve children's health.

Jamie Oliver, petitioner and health campaigner, said his hope for this afternoon is “that as many MPs as possible can attend to show that they care about the future health of Britain's children and push this important issue to the top of the government's agenda".