The government’s long-awaited childhood obesity strategy, published yesterday, has left both the industry and health campaigners disgruntled after certain key measures were dropped, while others were retained.
The report sets out an objective to “significantly reduce England’s rate of childhood obesity within the next ten years”, while also “respecting consumer choice, economic realities and, ultimately, our need to eat.”
It adds: “Although we are clear in our goals and firm in the action we will take, the launch of this plan represents the start of a conversation, rather than the final word.”
The proposed soft drinks levy, first announced by former chancellor George Osborne in March and set to come into force in 2018, has been kept – despite an industry-spanning campaign launched this week that aimed to encourage Theresa May to reconsider the measure.
British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington said he was “disappointed the Government wishes to proceed with a measure which analysis suggests will cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity.
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, called the tax a “disappointing diversion from effective measures to tackle obesity.”
Wright added that the target set for the industry to reduce the sugar content of food and drink products was flawed, that it was unlikely to be achievable, and that there was too much of a focus on sugar alone.
But strict measures on junk food advertising have been dropped, as was reported earlier this week – a decision welcomed by AA chief executive Tim Lefroy.
“Advertising has already taken action to end high fat, sugar and salt ads in children’s media, whether on TV, online or elsewhere,” said Lefroy. “We hope this announcement signals government’s recognition that working together with UK agencies, brands and media will get us further, faster in improving the nation’s health.”
Plans to ban price-cutting promotions of junk food in supermarkets have also been ditched – another measure enthusiastically called for by campaigners.
Jamie Oliver posted on Facebook this morning that he was “in shock” over the content of the strategy, which he said was “far from robust”.
“It contains a few nice ideas, but so much is missing,” said Oliver. “It was set to be one of the most important health initiatives of our time, but look at the words used – ‘should, might, we encourage’ – too much of it is voluntary, suggestive, where are the mandatory points?”
Campaigners criticised the strategy for continuing the approach of the previous government, which was considered by many to be a failure.
Prof Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar, said: “After the farce of the responsibility deal where [former health secretary] Andrew Lansley made the food industry responsible for policing themselves, it is sad to see that this is just another imitation of the same responsibility deal take two.
“It is an insulting response to the UK crisis in type-2 diabetes, both in children and adults. This will bankrupt the NHS unless something radical is done.”