The Government Finally Released Its Childhood Obesity Strategy But People Aren’t Happy

Published this morning, the report sets out plans for a tax on soft drinks and the reduction of sugar in children’s products by 20 percent. But health campaigners say this isn’t enough.

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18 August 2016, 12:45pm

Photo via Flickr user Rool Paap

It's been nearly ten months since Public Health England (PHE) released its findings on the long-term health effects of sugar (spoiler alert: it ain't good) and their suggestions for tackling the rising epidemic of childhood obesity.

This morning, after several delays which some put down to ministers' preoccupation with Brexit, the UK Government's Department of Health finally published its response to the PHE findings, in the form of a 13-page action plan.

READ MORE: Leaked Documents Suggest the Government Could Water Down Anti-Obesity Strategies

Among the strategies included in Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action is a levy on sugary drinks to be introduced in 2018, a challenge to the food and drink industry to reduce overall sugar content in children's products by at least 20 percent in the next four years, and pressure on schools to give pupils one hour of physical exercise every day.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, has praised the report, saying in a press release that it outlines "significant steps to tackle [obesity] head-on" and calling it "an ambitious programme to reduce the level of sugar in food and drink."

But not everyone is so happy.

Campaign groups including Obesity Health Alliance and the British Dental Association, as well as prominent sugar tax proponents like Jamie Oliver have criticised the Government, saying that the measures outlined in Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action simply aren't strong enough.

As documents leaked to The Times last month were correct in showing, marketing restrictions that would have seen a ban on junk food television adverts before the watershed have been dropped from the report. In fact, junk food marketing, which has been shown to heavily influence children's eating choices, is given no mention at all.

Others have questioned how effective A Plan for Action will be in regulating food manufacturers. The report merely "challenges" the food and drink industry to reduce overall sugar content, rather than being given fixed targets. Kawther Hashem from the health campaign group Action on Sugar told MUNCHIES that the group is "hugely disappointed" with this approach.

READ MORE: This Food Industry Body Says the UK Sugar Tax Should Be Stalled Because of Brexit

She said: "It seems like someone has just deleted most of the evidence-based recommendations [in Public Health England's original proposals]. We think the Government should have been much stronger on promotions and we're generally of the opinion that voluntary measures are not helpful for public health, but also for food companies themselves. No company wants to make the move first to make such big changes."

Hashem added that strategies to reduce salt and fat should have also been included in the plan, a sentiment shared by industry body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). In a statement released this morning, FDF director general Ian Wright said that the the Government had focused "too strongly on the role of this one nutrient [sugar], when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient."

The war on obesity looks set to continue.