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Doctors disappointed by the government’s new Childhood Obesity Plan

Leading doctors, former health ministers and campaigning celebrities have criticised the government’s “weak plan” to tackle childhood obesity.

The government’s plan will introduce a soft drinks tax, but will not extend this to other unhealthy products.

Instead, there will be a voluntary industry scheme for food and drinks manufacturers to cut 20% of sugar from children’s products. The programme will be monitored by Public Health England, which will set targets for calorie and sugar caps.

Dr Dan Poulter and Norman Lamb, who both served in the last coalition government, and chef Jamie Oliver said the plan was underwhelming and does not respond effectively to the growing crisis of children becoming dangerously overweight.

Professor Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said: “While the introduction of a sugar tax is an encouraging step forward, this on its own is not enough to solve the obesity problem facing our country. Poor diet is responsible for up to 70,000 deaths a year, and has a greater impact on the NHS budget than alcohol consumption, smoking or physical inactivity.

“The government must act now and take urgent action to address the ticking time-bomb that obesity poses to children and the NHS.”

It comes after health secretary Jeremy Hunt had claimed the government’s strategy would be necessarily “draconian” and interventionist in order to respond properly to what he last year called the “national disgrace” of childhood obesity. Hunt pledged as recently as February to deliver “a gamechanging moment, a robust strategy”.

The Childhood Obesity Plan also includes:

  • The development of a new “nutrient profile” that will help people determine which foods and drinks are unhealthy.
  • The government will work to encourage local authorities to adopt the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services in public sector buildings.
  • The Department of Heath will also collaborate with Public Health England, NHS England, and the Behavioural Insights Team to trial behavioural interventions in NHS hospitals are the sale of unhealthy food and drink.
  • The government says it is “re-committing” to the Healthy Start scheme, which provides vouchers to people on low incomes that can be exchanged for fruit, vegetables, or milk.
  • The government will provide a “new interactive online tool” to help schools plan at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. The aim is to get school children to take part in 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
  • A new “healthy rating scheme” for primary schools that will be taken into account during Ofsted inspections.
  • The Secretary of State for Education will led a campaign encouraging all schools to sign up to the new School Food Standards, which came into force in January 2015. There’s also a campaign planned for early 2017 to raise awareness of voluntary healthy food guidelines for children in pre-school.
  • The government says it will “build on the success” of the current food labelling scheme, which could include clearer visual labelling, such as teaspoons of sugar.

Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “The UK had an opportunity to be a world leader in protecting infants, children and young people against obesity and a host of related crippling, life-long non-communicable diseases. I am extremely disappointed that the long-awaited strategy has been replaced by this weak ‘plan’ which provides no bold action, and instead relies on physical activity, personal responsibility, and voluntary product reformulation.

“Exercise is good but exercise alone will not curb obesity.”

Read the plan.

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