CMO’s report on obesity: initial reaction

The chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has published her analysis of how the government can best tackle childhood obesity. 

Within the first page or so it was obvious this was going to be a pretty damning assessment of the current situation:In the last year of primary school, on average, six children out of a class of thirty are obese and a further four are overweight, twice as many as thirty years ago. Obesity disproportionately affects children living in deprived areas and some ethnic minority groups. Today’s children are drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options, compounded by insufficient opportunities for being active.”

Amongst the headline recommendations are an extension to the successful sugar tax on drinks to cover milk-based beverages, serious restrictions on advertising of unhealthy food and VAT breaks for companies selling healthy food. There is also a rather strange proposal to ban eating and drink on urban public transport (apart from water and when it is medically advised).

Indeed, the 96-page report and around 50 recommendations will take time to digest but here’s a summary of the initial reactions.

The Obesity Health Alliance: “This bold report clearly lays out how our environment is flooded with unhealthy food and drink and how this is overwhelming families and damaging children’s health. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Professor Dame Sally tackles the issue head on with a series of comprehensive recommendations to turn the tide of childhood obesity. This report makes crystal clear that the target will be missed and children’s health will suffer unless the government fully delivers existing plans and goes much, much further. What’s stark is just how far we currently are from stemming the tide of junk food in our environment with policies such as 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV and online and restrictions on promotions stalled since they were announced well over a year ago.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls: “A blanket cap on calories for all portions of food and drink consumed out-of-home sounds like a knee-jerk, impractical and unfair measure. We are supportive of measures to tackle childhood obesity, but a cap on all portions clearly removes choice for all customers irrespective of age. Reducing the rate of VAT for healthier options on menus could be a good way to promote healthier choices. We would certainly be interested in exploring options to reduce costs for businesses providing healthy food and drink for customers. Many businesses have been hammered by increasing costs, so making it cheaper and easier for them to provide healthy options would be a good move.”

BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said:

“We welcome this much-needed report. The government and industry are continuing to let down our children by missing vital opportunities to make food and drinks healthier for our children and give many of them a far better start to life than they have currently. This must stop."

Kate Halliwell, head of UK diet and health policy at the Food and Drink Federation, insisted that her members are “working hard to implement what has already been asked of them by government in three chapters of a childhood obesity plan published in just three years. Members are committing time and resource to deliver the government’s various reformulation programmes – cutting salt, sugars and calories. In fact, FDF members are selling 57.3 million fewer kilograms of sugars and one trillion fewer calories than they were back in 2015. As Public Health England acknowledge, reformulating products takes time, and we must always take the consumer with us. We want government to support us in this work and not introduce punitive measures which might hinder it.”

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