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Government’s childhood obesity plan does not go far enough, say MPs

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1556 (Published 28 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1556

Re: Government’s childhood obesity plan does not go far enough, say MPs

The Institute of Health Promotion and Education is pleased that the House of Commons Health Committee has reviewed the Government’s childhood obesity plan (1). The review clearly shows what is needed to be done to tackle the obesity epidemic. We firmly believe that a key approach that is urgently required is to tackle the plethora of obesogenic environments.

Hospitals have roles to play - “It’s time to ban junk food on hospital premises” (2). By visiting just a few hospitals it is clear to see that the food being sold and the portion sizes in cafes are not always promoting healthy eating. The consumption of sugary drinks is of particular concern. Hospitals should not legitimize junk food they should be places where healthy options are plentiful and where the public can learn about positive lifestyles.

Schools should also become settings for promoting health. The physical environment, school meals, physical education and the curriculum should be used to promote health. As a starting point: personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education should become compulsory in all schools. In addition, more should be done to encourage children of all abilities to participate in exercise they can enjoy (3).

Action is also needed in the environment immediately surrounding schools. Changes in planning legislation is needed so that local authorities can tackle the proliferation of fast-food takeaways in the neighbourhoods of some schools.

The marketing and promotional activities of some companies provide a more pervasive environment that can impact on children’s attitudes, knowledge and dietary behaviour (4). There is an urgent need to extend current restrictions on advertising to apply across all other forms of broadcast media, social media and advertising. This includes on posters, in cinemas, and online.

In shops themselves more could be done to promote healthy eating. Improved food labelling and removing confectionery or other less healthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts could assist in improving the environment for families (5).

To conclude it is important to state that there are effective approaches that can be used to tackle obesogenic environments and thus support children and families who want to make healthy choices (1,4,6-9). The Government must take heed of the Health Committee’s recent review and enhance its obesity plan so that the overall levels of childhood obesity as well as the unacceptable and widening levels of inequality can be reduced (10).

References
1) House of Commons Health Committee. Childhood obesity: follow-up. 27 Mar 2017. www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/heal....

2) Watson M and Lloyd J, 2013 It’s time to ban junk food on hospital premises. BMJ Rapid Response 1st July 2013. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3932/rr/652126.

3) Lloyd J, 2015. Compassion through development of physical and mental health and well-being. In, Towards the Compassionate School. Ed. Maurice Irfan Coles. London: Trentham Books/IOE Press. 2015.

4) BMA. Food for thought: promoting healthy diets among children and young people. London: BMA, 2015.

5) Watson M 2013 Consistent food labelling system is rolled out across UK. BMJ Rapid Response 23rd June 2013. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f4010/rr/651049.

6) Foresight. Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report. London: Government Office for Science 2007.

7) Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Measuring Up: The Medical Profession’s Prescription for the Nations Obesity Crisis. London: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges 2013.

8) Watson M and Lloyd J, 2015. Taxing sugar should be just one element of a multifaceted campaign BMJ 2015;351:h4388.

9) WHO. Report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity: implementation plan. Report by the Secretariat for the 140th Session of the WHO Executive Board. Geneva: WHO, 2017.

10) Watson MC and Thompson S, 2017. Re: Time for the UK to commit to tackling child obesity. British Medical Journal Rapid Response, 28th February 2017.

Competing interests: No competing interests

28 March 2017
Michael Craig Watson
Associate Professor of Public Health.
Dr John Lloyd (Vice President Institute of Health Promotion and Education, Institute of Health Promotion and Education, http://ihpe.org.uk/).
University of Nottingham, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham. NG7 2HA
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