Today, the British Dietetic Association has expressed its disappointment at the “much diminished” Childhood Obesity Strategy published today by the government:
Key policies which could drive down obesity rates amongst children and young people have been dropped, including proposals to ban junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed and regulation of price promotions on unhealthy food. This is despite support from numerous sources, including the Commons Health Select Committee[i] and the Obesity Health Alliance[ii], which have brought together a huge range of expertise and evidence.
Obesity is a national crisis which is estimated to have cost the NHS £6.3 billion in 2015[iii]. In 2014/15, 19.1% of children aged 10-11 were obese and a further 14.2% were overweight[iv], and by the time people reach adulthood, 25.6% of the population are obese, with a further 36.1% overweight[v]. Once children become obese it is very difficult to treat and when they become adults they are more likely to be obese and suffer a higher risk of morbidity, disability and premature mortality.
Dr Fiona McCullough, BDA Chairman said:
“While we are pleased that the strategy has finally been published after much delay, it is disappointing that the government has not been braver and stronger in its approach. Ignoring areas such as price promotion and advertising, despite strong evidence of their negative impact on child health, is a huge missed opportunity.”
The BDA agrees that the government needs to provide more support for public health programmes designed to tackle poor diet and sedentary behaviour. Dietitians, as nutrition experts, are best qualified to lead interventions to give our children and young people the skills and support they need to lead healthy and balanced lifestyles.
Dr McCullough added:
“We hope that the government will develop the strategy further, and support for proven and effective education interventions. Dietitians and other health professionals need to be given support to help children and the public in general to improve their diet and increase physical activity.”
The BDA will be producing a full response to the strategy once we have had time to consider the strategy in detail.
Government must hold the line on sugar levy and industry should focus on reformulation.
As the government also opens a consultation on the implementation of a sugar levy, the BDA is insisting that the government maintain its commitment to the sugar levy. The BDA is also challenging the food and drink industry to concentrate on reformulating their products to reduce sugar content instead of campaigning against the tax. Beverages with less than five grams of sugar per 100ml will not be subject to the levy.
Dr McCullough said:
“The food industry has been able to reduce the amount of salt in the diet through reformulation and the sugar levy is intended to encourage them to do the same with sugar. We would encourage the food and drink industry to drop their campaign against the levy and instead focus on reformulating their products to avoid the tax.”
Children and young people aged between four and 18 years eat the most sugar which accounts for around 14-15% of their daily energy intake. There has been a growing trend globally in the consumption of sugary soft drinks amongst children which provide a major source of sugar in their diet.[vi]
The Centre for Health Economics at York University[vii] has undertaken consumer research which shows that a tax, especially when combined with signposting, can significantly reduce the amount of unhealthy soft drinks that consumers purchase.
Similar taxes have been introduced in Berkeley, California, in Mexico and most recently in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In Mexico they have seen the sales of sugary drinks drop 12 per cent in the first year of the 10% sugar tax[viii].