Scales and measuring tape

Solving childhood obesity isn't difficult but it requires action, committee told

Dame Sally Davies follows up call for ban on eating on public transport with plea to safeguard children’s right to be free from unhealthy eating incentives.
31 October 2019 , Katie Coyne

Childhood obesity is a children’s rights issue that needs to be put at the forefront of Government policy ahead of commercial profits, argued former chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Dame Sally Davies.

Davies was answering questions to the Health and Social Care Committee on 29 October, where she argued that there was “no magic bullet” and that the solution lay in taking lots of different actions.

She warned that Government and industry need to act now or potentially face ‘draconian’ measures such as plain food packaging in the future, as society may demand this if the situation is allowed to get worse.

Davies used her final report as CMO, published earlier this month, to call for a ban on eating on public transport and an extended sugar tax.

She said: “It’s crept up on us because we are flooded with unhealthy food and drink and incentives to take them. I wanted to reframe the subject of overweight and obesity for children both as the environmental flooding, the fact that all of these unhealthy products are centre stage, but also as a children’s rights issue.

“We can solve this. There is no magic bullet – it needs a lot of different small things. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t solve it. Meanwhile if you look at the polling the public want us to. It’s an issue of commercial determinants, and social determinants coming together and being additive. I want to see our children’s health – not commercial profits – at the forefront of Government policy.”

She added: “We have got bold plans but they won’t get us where they need to and they have stalled. My ambition coming out of this report is to allow our children to grow up free from marketing signals and incentives to consume unhealthy food and drink.

“I believe Government, now and in the future, has a responsibility to act to rebalance the lives of our children and the environment they live in.”

At the same committee hearing Public Health England’s chief executive Duncan Selbie warned that despite voluntary targets for the food industry to reduce 20% of sugar from key food categories, overall there has been an increase in the amount of sugar in products purchased.

Selbie said: “Although we’ve seen net improvements in 2.9%, we’ve seen overall a 0.5% increase in the amount of sugar – so as we have made our products have less sugar in them, we are selling more of it.

He added: “We can take the sugar out of the food, but if industry is selling more food that’s got sugar in it we are not going to see an improvement.”

Speaking later to the committee, Professor Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at Oxford University, also warned that the Government “isn’t really doing anything”.

She told them: “What this committee really needs to think about is why despite strong support from the public to take action, despite the rhetoric we hear from Government, when it comes to it, actually almost nothing is happening.

“We are fantastic at hand wringing but actually it’s not difficult. This isn’t a great geo-political discourse Some of these things are very, very simple but the Government is choosing not to do them.”

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