Sixty seconds on . . . the childhood obesity strategy

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 26 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4684
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

It’s finally been dished up then?

Indeed. After facing more delays than you could shake a stick of rock at, the UK government’s long awaited menu for tackling one of the biggest public health challenges of our times was finally snuck out in mid-August during parliamentary recess.1

In the silly season? That would suggest that the government wasn’t all that keen for us to feast on it

We couldn’t possibly comment. But the glut of criticism that the document received from doctors, dentists, celebrity chefs, and even supermarkets was such that ministers probably weren’t too unhappy that it was served up while they were on holidays.2 3

So why such weighty criticism?

The strategy for England was slated mainly for being more watered down than a heavily diluted cordial. It ignored key recommendations to ban discount promotions of junk food in supermarkets and to restrict the advertising of unhealthy food to children on television. It also failed to impose mandatory restrictions on the amount of sugar in food. In short, a supersized disappointment.

What did it recommend then? Free soda pop for the under 5s?

Not quite. But rather than imposing legislation to force food and drink manufacturers into action, it will instead “encourage” the industry to work towards a 20% reduction in the sugar used in products popular with children.

Ah, the old nudging technique

That’s the one. Companies will be encouraged to cut sugar levels, make portions smaller, and promote the uptake of lower sugar alternatives. But given the failure of the government’s previous “responsibility deal” with industry,4 the government has once again been accused of pandering to big business.

So has the government given up on helping overweight children?

Many people have questioned the appetite of the new prime minister, Theresa May, for improving public health. In her first speech as PM, May pledged to tackle health inequalities driven by poverty and social deprivation. If this strategy fails to lower childhood obesity rates, it may go down as a big fat missed opportunity.


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