New obesity strategy is “weak” with “pointless” targets

The childhood obesity strategy has finally been published, and government has put the onus on industry to tackle the issue.

The sugar tax stays, for now, with a consultation launched alongside the new strategy. There is also a hint that Brexit could trigger changes to labelling schemes, with the “teaspoons of sugar” idea put forward by Jamie Oliver seemingly under consideration.

However, there will be no bans on junk food promotions in supermarkets or restaurants – a proposal which the British Retail Consortium appeared to support. Neither will there be any further restrictions on advertising. Let’s not forget, these were two of the principal recommendations put forward by Public Health England in its advice to government in October 2015.

The remainder of the plan relies on voluntary agreements. Foodservice, retail and manufacturing firms will be “challenged” to reduce overall sugar across a range of products by 20% by 2020. The four-year targets will be set for nine categories in March next year.

Meanwhile, local authorities will be “encouraged” to adopt the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services. There will also be a new “healthy rating scheme” for schools “to recognise and encourage their contribution to preventing obesity”. The education secretary, Justine Greening, will also lead a campaign to encourage more academies to commit to the School Food Standards.

The Food and Drink Federation welcomed the voluntary approaches but questioned the inclusion of the sugar tax on soft drinks. The 20% by 2020 sugar reduction target is also “unlikely to be technically practical”, FDF said, adding that the focus on a single nutrient is flawed.

Doctors and health campaigners slammed the strategy as far too “weak”. Professor Parveen Kumar, chairwoman of the BMA's board of science, said: "Although the government proposes targets for food companies to reduce the level of sugar in their products, the fact that these are voluntary and not backed up by regulation, renders them pointless."

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Consensus Action on Salt and Health, added: "After the farce of the Responsibility Deal where Andrew Lansley made the food industry responsible for policing themselves, it is sad to see that this is just another imitation of the same Responsibility Deal take two.”

The full strategy is available here, and the sugar tax consultation is here.

Health & Vitality Honours, the platform for the industry to showcase best practice and greater transparency on the social issues of health and nutrition in foodservice, opens for entries September 1st.

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