Health leaders are calling the government’s much delayed childhood obesity plan a “missed opportunity” as key actions are excluded.
Childhood obesity: a plan for action, released today, includes a voluntary measure for manufacturers to cut the sugar in children’s foods and drinks by 20%, and a move to get every primary school child exercising for an hour each day.
However, the report failed to include measures to restrict junk food advertising and marketing before the watershed and ban on price-cutting promotions of junk food in supermarkets.
Fiona Smith, Professional Lead for Children and Young People’s Nursing for the RCN, said: “Whilst its right that the Government is focussing on the nation’s health and the effect that habits formed in childhood can have, this plan is more notable for what it does not contain than for what it does.
“Nurses working in health visiting, school nursing and public health roles can make a huge difference to the health and lifestyles of families and these services must be given the sustained investment they so desperately need.”
She added: “It is deeply concerning that there is no mention of plans to tackle the marketing which is aimed at children, which can normalise and incentivise unhealthy habits.”
While many praised the sugar tax announced by George Osborne in March, Dr Jo Bibby, director of strategy at the Health Foundation, said the plan as a whole is “unambitious” and will fail to relieve pressure on health services.
She added that the problem demands a “society-wide response” and describes the failure to ban certain food advertising and store promotions as a “major gap”.
The government’s plan to get more primary school children exercising every day will see a boost in funding to school sports and breakfast clubs, subsidised by a tax on sugary drinks that will come into effect in April 2018.
However, this aspect of the strategy has come under attack from the shadow health secretary Diane Abbott, who says the extra £10 million “amounts to as little as £1.28 per pupil per year”.
She said: “This is a missed opportunity from the Tory Government. This report has been delayed three times, and is a woefully inadequate response.
“Obesity is ruining the quality of life for growing numbers of people, starting with children. In 2014/15 the Department of Health spent £5.1 billion on obesity related illnesses alone.”
Schools will also be assessed on their healthiness during school inspections, including an evaluation of how they are making their students more active.
The report also says that Public Health England (PHE) will advise the Government on setting sugar targets per 100g of product and caps on calories for specific single serving products from March 2017.