Former chief medical officer unveils childhood obesity report

Former chief medical officer unveils childhood obesity report
10/10/2019 - 09:37
An independent report by Dame Sally Davies, former chief medical officer, has been released in an attempt to tackle childhood obesity.

In the 96-page report Davies calls for action across industry and the public sector to assist the Government to reach its target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.

In the last year of primary school, on average, six children out of a class of 30 are obese and another four are overweight (twice as many as 30 years ago).

Davies suggests one of the reasons for the increase in childhood obesity is the increase in the average portion size of unhealthy foods. For example in 1990 the average packet of crisps was 100g but in 2019 it is 150g (50% increase) and the average pizza has increased from 200g to 305g (53% increase).

The report highlights that the food and drink options in the public sector, particularly hospitals are often unhealthy and that drinking water can be difficult to find. 

The independent report sets out a range recommendations for the Government that are supported by ten principles:

  1. Rebalance the food and drinks sold to favour healthy options, through regulation.
  2. Allow children to grow up free from marketing, signals and incentives to consume unhealthy food and drinks.
  3. Introduce innovative policies that find the win-wins for children’s health and the private sector.
  4. Invest in and design the built environment to create opportunities for children to be active and healthy.
  5. Take action to improve: exercise and healthy weight in pregnancy, breastfeeding rates and infant feeding.
  6. Ensure schools and nurseries play a central role, supported by Ofsted monitoring.
  7. Ensure our NHS and health sector workforce can deliver what our children and families need to prevent, manage and treat obesity, including having conversations about weight and tackling weight-related stigma.
  8. Make better use of data to guide practice.
  9. Protect and prioritise our children’s health and rights while making trade deals. Their health and a healthy environment must come above company profits.
  10. Develop the evidence base to inform practice and policy.

Some of the specific recommendations include prohibiting eating on eating and drinking on urban public transport (principle 2), an upper level cap on calories per serving for all food and drink sold by the out-of home food and drink sector (principle 1) and ensuring schools and nurseries provide healthy food at an affordable price (principle 6).

Kate Halliwell, head of UK diet and health policy at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said: “UK food and drink manufacturers are working hard to implement what has already been asked of them by Government in three chapters of a Childhood Obesity Plan published in just three years.

"FDF member companies are committing time and resource to deliver the Government’s various reformulation programmes - cutting salt, sugars and calories. In fact, FDF members are selling 57.3 million fewer kilograms of sugars and 1 trillion fewer calories than they were back in 2015.

“As Public Health England acknowledge, reformulating products takes time, and we must always take the consumer with us. We want government to support us in this work and not introduce punitive measures which might hinder it.

"We agree more needs to be done to tackle obesity, and welcome the report's clear steer that everyone needs to play their part, including schools, local councils and the NHS. Manufacturers alone will not solve this. We believe money should be put behind specific, targeted measures for those most affected by the burden of obesity."

Among the proposals are a calorie cap per serving of food and drink sold by the out-of-home food sector and a review of VAT rates on food and drink. Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive, commented: “A blanket cap on calories for all portions of food and drink consumed out-of-home sounds like a knee-jerk, impractical and unfair measure.

“We are supportive of measures to tackle childhood obesity, but a cap on all portions clearly removes choice for all customers irrespective of age. Such a cap would cause problems for businesses, not to mention the obvious reduction in choice for customers and restricting of personal freedoms for adults who should be able to choose for themselves."

To read the full report, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/time-to-solve-childhood-obesity-cmo-special-report

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