Childhood obesity: Time for action Contents
Current estimates suggest that nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese in the UK and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most deprived areas and this situation is getting worse. Children aged 5 and from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese compared to their most well-off counterparts and by age 11 they are three times as likely. The case for stronger action on this unacceptable and widening health inequality is compelling.
The Government is expected to publish shortly a refreshed version of the childhood obesity plan first published in summer 2016. This report outlines the following key areas which demand attention as a matter of urgency by the Government before the next chapter of the plan is finalised:
- A ‘whole systems’ approach—an effective childhood obesity plan demands a joined-up, ‘whole systems’ approach. Government must change the narrative around childhood obesity, to make it clear that this is everyone’s business. A Cabinet-level committee should be set up which reviews the implementation of the plan, with mandatory reporting across all departments. We call on Government to set clear and ambitious targets for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity and the resulting health inequalities.
- Marketing and advertising—We endorse the calls for a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising. The next Government childhood obesity plan should include 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 Government must align regulations on non-broadcast media with those for broadcast media.
- Price promotions —We call on Government to regulate to restrict discounting and price promotions and on removing confectionery and other less healthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts which responsible retailers have requested, through statutory measures
- Early years and schools—We recommend that the Government should put in place further measures around early years and the first 1000 days of life, including setting 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.
- Takeaways—The Government’s next childhood obesity plan must make it easier for local authorities to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas. Local authorities also need further powers to limit the prevalence of HFSS food and drink billboard advertising near schools. Health should be made a licensing objective for local authorities.
- Fiscal measures—We urge the Government to extend the successful soft drinks industry levy to milk-based drinks. The next Government childhood obesity plan must signal that further fiscal measures are being designed to encourage reformulation of products where targets are not being met.
- Labelling—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.
- Services for children living with obesity—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.