Child obesity drive ‘stalled by Brexit’

By | June 25, 2019

The drive to tackle child obesity has stalled with a raft of measures stuck in Brexit backlog, it is being claimed.

A ban on energy drink sales to under-16s, clearer calorie labelling and a crackdown on junk food advertising were all promised by ministers when they launched the revamped obesity strategy.

But a year on none of the key measures has been introduced in England.

Both Labour and campaigners said it showed progress had stopped – but the government said it was still on track.

Among the steps being highlighted by Labour and the Obesity Health Alliance are:

  • banning the sale of energy drinks to children
  • clearer calorie labelling in cafes, restaurants and takeaways
  • a ban on junk food advertising before 21:00
  • restrictions on price promotions of unhealthy foods, such as “buy one, get one free”
  • tougher standards on catering contracts for schools
  • a voucher scheme for low income families to help them buy healthy food

Ministers promised each would be consulted on by the end of 2018.

But the government has yet to commit to any of them – with the voucher scheme still to be discussed.

‘Snail’s pace’

Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, acknowledged work had been done despite the “complex political environment”, but she added more action was needed quickly if the government was to achieve its target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.

“The clock is ticking,” she said.

Labour’s shadow public health minister, Sharon Hodgson, said it represented “snail’s pace progress” by a government distracted by the “botched Brexit negotiations”.

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“One year on since the plan was published, the government’s so-called commitments to childhood obesity remains mere window dressing,” she said.

But ministers maintained progress was being made, pointing to the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks as a sign of the government’s commitment.

The Department of Health and Social Care used the one-year anniversary of the refreshed strategy – the original one was published in 2016, but updated two years later to include clear commitments on action – to trumpet projects that were getting under way in local areas with the help of councils.

They include:

  • a partnership in Bradford with local mosques to get the South Asian community active and eating healthier food
  • a drive in Blackburn to get restaurants and takeaways offering healthier foods
  • Lewisham’s tactic of using unsold advertising space to promote healthy lifestyle messages

Public health minister Seema Kennedy said preventing obesity was at the “heart” of the government’s approach.

“Every child deserves the best start in life,” she added.

BBC News – Health