Medical experts have launched a scathing attack on the UK government’s childhood obesity plan.
An analysis published in the British Medical Journal, claims the strategy is “severely limited” with strong actions “conspicuous by their absence”. In addition, “the desired discussion of anti-obesogenic medicine had been watered down to an emphasis on voluntary actions by industry, consumers, and schools”.
Professor Mark Hanson from the British Heart Foundation, University of Southampton, Professor Neena Modi, president of the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Professor of Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College London, and Dr Edward Mullins, a trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology, argue that a far tougher approach is needed.
The plan would be much more effective if it included evidence-based interventions, such as an industry levy on sugar sweetened beverages, nutrient profiling to identify healthy and unhealthy foods, clearer food labelling, and promoting physical activity in schools, they note. Other recommendations absent from the short strategy include stronger controls on advertising, mandatory food reformulation and nutrition education.
Governments “should not hold back” from fiscal measures like taxes and new laws on marketing and packaging that have “brought enormous benefits to child and population health” when applied to the cigarette industry, the authors note.
But both the health minister and her advisors hit back at the claims. Nicola Blackwood called the criticisms “inexplicable” given that the sugar levy, for example, is in the plan. Duncan Selbie, chief executive at Public Health England, said the strategy is “a good start on the journey to reverse child obesity. It is quintessentially British to complain about what it does not include rather than focus on the significant action being taken. Let’s implement the plan and start making a difference,” he added.
The government’s obesity plan has attracted widespread criticism since it was published in August 2016. Health bodies and campaigners have pointed in particular to the lack of new regulation on junk food advertising, as well as voluntary rather than mandatory targets on reformulation. In October it emerged that the prime minister Theresa May had watered down the strategy developed by her predecessor David Cameron.