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Government plans to prevent child obesity are “severely limited”, argue experts

The action plan to significantly reduce childhood obesity is “severely limited”, argue a team of experts.

Writing in the BMJ, they say the government missed an opportunity to take global leadership on child health.

Professor Mark Hanson from the British Heart Foundation, and University of Southampton, Professor Neena Modi, President of the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Professor of Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College London, criticise a number of key failings within the plan.

They say following publication of the report Childhood Obesity: a Plan for Action last year, there was an “immediate outcry from the medical and public health communities, who had hoped for much more”.

They warn that “strong actions were conspicuous by their absence, and the desired discussion of anti-obesogenic medicine [countering obesity onset] had been watered down to an emphasis on voluntary actions by industry, consumers, and schools”.

The report, they say, “fails to recognise that overweight and obesity in children and young people are driven by multiple modifiable biological, behavioural, environmental, and commercial factors, some of which operate before conception and birth.”

Furthermore, the report does not “recognise that the harm extends across generations,” and this failure, they say, represents “a major lost opportunity for effective prevention.”

The report also does not include the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) recommendations, and by doing so, the UK government missed an opportunity to show global leadership in child health.

They say it could be considerably strengthened by including evidence based interventions, such as an industry levy on sugar sweetened beverages, nutrient profiling to identify healthy and unhealthy foods, clearer food labelling, and promoting physical activity in schools.

Other recommendations absent from the report include stronger controls on advertising, mandatory food reformulation, and nutrition education.

They suggest a new global alliance against child obesity led by an international alliance of healthcare organisations, which the UK government could work with.

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