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Government must launch new measures to tackle obesity among kids

The proportion of obese and overweight children has doubled in the past 30 years, and the Chief Medical Officer is calling on the government to prevent children “drowing in a flood” of unhealthy eating options.

In her final report as CMO, the outgoing Dame Sally Davies called for tighter rules on advertising and takeaways.

Snacking should be banned on public transport and extra taxes placed on unhealthy foods to tackle child obesity.

If ministers were not bold, she said, the government would fail to cut obesity rates.

Dame Sally said: “The unavoidable fact is that over time our environment has become very unhealthy without us realising.

“Our children are now suffering from painful, potentially life-limiting disease. Our politicians need to be bold and help everyone embrace healthier life choices.”

There are signs the increase in obesity levels has begun to level off, but among the most deprived communities rates are still increasing.

Children living in the poorest tenth of areas are more than twice as likely to be obese than those in the richest.

Until recently type two diabetes was considered an adult problem, but now there are more than 100 new cases each year among children.

Dame Sally has put forward a wide range of measures. Some are about extending existing policies, while others are completely new.

They include:

  • Phasing out all marketing, advertising and sponsorship of unhealthy food and drink
  • Banning food and drink on local transport with exceptions for water, breast-feeding and medical conditions
  • Free water refills to be available at all food outlets, transport stations and public sector buildings
  • Regular car-free weekends across the country to encourage physical activity
  • Changing planning rules to make it harder to open fast-food takeaways
  • Extending the sugar tax to include milk-based drinks
  • Adding VAT to unhealthy food products that are currently zero-rated, such as cakes
  • Capping calories in food served out-of-the home to combat rising portion sizes
  • Consider plain packaging – as for tobacco – for junk food, if firms fail to reduce sugar, fat and salt in their products quickly enough
  • All nurseries, registered childminders and schools to adopt water and milk-only policies

Meanwhile, new research from the National Child Measurement Programme shows that in 2018-19, 22.6% of reception children and 34.3% of year 6 children were either overweight or obese.

Sally Warren, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, said: “The government should make full use of all the levers at its disposal to tackle obesity. Some politicians may balk at the idea of the ‘nanny state’, but research suggests these types of intervention may enjoy stronger public support than they often assume.

“Around two thirds of adults support the sugar tax and restricting junk food advertising, so there is a real opportunity for the Government to build on Dame Sally’s report and turn these ideas into action.”

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