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Childhood obesity is everyone's business

30 May 2018

The Government must change the narrative around childhood obesity to make it clear that this is everyone's business, say the Health and Social Care Committee in their report on childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity plan

The Government is expected to publish shortly a refreshed version of the childhood obesity plan first published in summer 2016. The Committee has identified several key areas which demand attention as a matter of urgency by the Government before the next chapter of the plan is finalised. The Committee is calling for an effective childhood obesity plan with a joined-up, ‘whole systems' approach and one which focuses particularly on tackling the ever-widening health inequality due to childhood obesity between the richest and poorest areas.

Marketing and advertising

The report endorses calls for a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising. There needs to be a ban on brand generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote HFSS (high fat, sugar and salt) products on broadcast and non-broadcast media, and the Government must align regulations on non-broadcast media with those for broadcast media.

In addition, the Government must regulate to restrict the discounting and price promotions which drive higher volumes of consumption of unhealthy food and drink. This does not need to make food more expensive as retailers could change their offers to healthier products.

We also urge the Government to level the playing field for retailers and act to ban confectionery and other unhealthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts. Responsible retailers have requested that this is underpinned by statutory measures.

Current progress on labelling in the UK is reliant on voluntary commitments and is therefore not universally applied. Calorie labelling at point of food choice for the out-of-home food sector would provide basic information to enable healthier choices.

Early years and schools and Services

The Committee calls for targets to improve rates of breastfeeding, to combat childhood obesity, and urge a full and timely implementation of all of the school-centred measures contained in the original 2016 Child Obesity Action Plan. Local authorities need to be allowed to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas and the prevalence of HFSS food and drink billboard advertising near schools. Existing powers are not sufficient and we again call for health to be made an objective within the planning system in order to give local authorities the tools they need to make effective changes at local level.

The Government must ensure there are robust systems in place to not only identify children who are overweight or obese, but to ensure that these children are offered effective help in a multidisciplinary approach, and that service provision extends to their families. Throughout our report, we emphasise the need to focus on 'healthy lifestyles' rather than using stigmatising language. 

We were impressed by the progress that has been made in Amsterdam using a whole systems approach. 

We urge the Government to go further in making sure that we identify children at risk of obesity at an earlier stage and make sure that they and their families can access the right help. Prevention of obesity however is everyone's business and the widening health inequality can no longer be ignored.

Whole systems approach

Chair of the Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, says:

"Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most disadvantaged communities and this unacceptable health inequality has widened every year since records began. The consequences for these children are appalling and this can no longer be ignored.

We want to see a whole systems approach and for local authorities to be given the powers they need to reduce childhood obesity in their communities. Health needs to be made an objective within the planning and licensing system.

Government needs to further help reduce childhood obesity by introducing tougher restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food, including by bringing in a 9pm advertising watershed. It should also act to protect children by banning the offers and displays that push high volume sales and impulse buying of junk food and drink. I welcome the sugary drinks levy that has already played a vital role in driving reformulation and call for this to be extended to milky drinks which contain added sugar." 

Further information

Image: iStockphoto