Public Health England widens focus from cutting sugar as children are copying adults in consuming too many calories per day
Public health bosses are urging food manufacturers to make chips, pizzas, crisps and burgers healthier, opening a second front in efforts to tackle childhood obesity.
Public Health England wants to go further than the focus on cutting sugar by demanding firms that make products eaten regularly by children ensure they are far less fattening by reducing the calories in them.
The new emphasis on sources of calories from ingredients other than sugar has been prompted by growing concern that children’s waistlines are expanding because they are copying adults by consuming 200-300 calories too many per day.
Over 40,000 deaths a year – one in 10 – are linked to people being dangerously overweight, health experts say.
PHE will start by investigating how many calories these types of foods popular with children contain and issue what ministers say will be “strong guidance” on reformulating them, and exhort manufacturers and retailers to act to improve children’s health.
“A third of our children leave primary school overweight or obese and an excess of calories – not just excess sugar consumption – is the root cause of this,” said Duncan Selbie, PHE’s chief executive.
The move marks the latest stage of the government’s bid to reduce childhood obesity, which has been heavily criticised by health and children’s groups as too weak. Within weeks of becoming prime minister in July last year, Theresa May watered down what under her predecessor David Cameron was due to be a more robust strategy on the subject. Under May it became just a “plan for action”.
The initiative follows what PHE says is the “real progress” achieved over the past year in persuading manufacturers of sugary foods and soft drinks to cut the amount of sugar in their products. Nestle, Greggs, Starbucks, Kellogg’s and other firms have all pledged to do that, as have the makers of Lucozade and Ribena, and supermarkets such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and M&S. They have done so with nine types of sugary foods, including breakfast cereals, cakes, ice-cream, biscuits and yogurt. But health experts claim that the introduction next April of the sugar levy is as key to why some soft drinks ranges are cutting sugar content as their desire to join the fight against childhood obesity.