New childhood obesity strategy? Fat chance.

The Childhood Obesity Strategy has been delayed again, this time until after the summer recess.

“Work on that [strategy] continues,” said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman in response to a question from the Huffington Post UK. “I think it is more likely to be into the autumn than it is this week, but we will set out our approach in due course.”

Theresa May has other things on her “to do” list, one assumes. “Brexit means Brexit”, she has said, but even talks on that can wait until next year, it now seems.

This should give her ample time to do other things, like publish the obesity strategy. NHS chief executive Simon Stevens and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver are already pushing.

“We urgently need an activist child obesity strategy, with comprehensive action on food reformulation, promotions and advertising,” wrote Stevens in a piece for the Daily Telegraph this week.

May, an apparent stickler for detail, doesn’t want to be rushed. That a leaked draft copy of the long-awaited strategy was branded “pathetic” won’t have greased the Downing Street wheels.

The proposals reportedly include a plan to reduce sugar content in food by 20% by 2020, but no set limits on fat content. There were also no specifics relating to marketing restrictions – such as the mooted ban on junk food adverts on TV before the 9pm watershed.

“This will bankrupt the NHS unless something radical is done,” said Professor Graham McGregor, chairman of the campaign group Action on Sugar.

Radical, like Brexit?

Perhaps the £350M weekly “saving” that Vote Leave earmarked for the NHS will give May and Jeremy Hunt a bit of breathing space before committing to a plan on obesity (current cost to Britain: £47bn a year).

Not that there will be £350M; or even that £350M will be worth anything.

That claim, of course, will leave a sour taste in the mouth for many years to come. As Helen Lewis wryly noted in New Statesman: “You can’t claim that a herbal diet drink will make customers thinner, but you can claim that £350M a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union.”

The irony, of course, is that the rules on food and beverage claims stem from European legislation. If only the Brussels bureaucrats had taken a similarly strict approach to political campaigning.

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