Britain must take much tougher action to tackle childhood obesity, including banning sponsorship of sports events by manufacturers of unhealthy food and drinks, leading doctors will warn. Without such robust measures, the NHS will come under “enormous and unsustainable strain” from a condition that already costs it £5bn a year, according to an action plan by the Obesity Health Alliance.
The alliance, which comprises 41 medical groups, health charities and public health bodies, has drawn up a 10-point action plan intended to influence the political parties as they draw up their manifestos for the election on 8 June.
The OHA is urging whoever forms the next government to strengthen the childhood obesity plan. Theresa May was criticised last August when it was published because it was much less wide-ranging than the strategy that her predecessor, David Cameron, had been preparing to launch.
Health groups claimed that Downing Street had caved in to pressure from the food industry, for example by not making mandatory the reformulation of food to reduce fat, salt and sugar.
“Whichever party takes up the reins of power in June, getting to grips with obesity must be high on the agenda and bolder steps taken to address the obesogenic environment in which our children are growing up. The public want this to happen; what’s needed is clear political will,” members of the OHA say in a letter published in the Guardian.
Their blueprint includes steps to reduce children’s exposure to marketing for unhealthy foods and drinks. It includes a ban on TV advertising for such products before the 9pm watershed and a demand that “rules should be extended to cover sponsorship of sports and family attractions”. If enacted, that could prevent, for example, McDonald’s from continuing its long-running sponsorship of grassroots football.
The OHA is also urging ministers to:
• instigate a campaign to warn consumers of the presence and dangers of the free, or added, sugars that are found in a wide range of foodstuffs
• ensure that traffic light labelling on food remains after Britain leaves the EU.
• oblige free schools and academies to serve lunches that comply with the school food standards, which specify the nutritional content of meals which pupils eat in state schools.
Public Health England said restrictions on its statements during the election campaign meant it could not respond directly to the OHA’s manifesto. However, a spokeswoman said: “PHE is leading on a sugar reduction and wider reformulation programme. This will see us engage with all sectors of the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar in the foods that contribute most to children’s intakes by 20% by 2020, with a 5% reduction in the first year. This programme will also move to include calories and saturated fat.”
Source: The Guardian