Intended for healthcare professionals


Time for the UK to commit to tackling child obesity

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 22 February 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j762
  1. Mark Hanson, British Heart Foundation professor1,
  2. Edward Mullins, specialty trainee year 6 in obstetrics and gynaecology2,
  3. Neena Modi, professor of neonatal medicine3
  1. 1Institute of Developmental Sciences, University of Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK
  2. 2Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Du Cane Road, London W12 0HS, UK
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, Chelsea and Westminster Campus, 369 Fulham Road, London SW10, UK,
  1. Correspondence to: M Hanson m.hanson{at}

The UK government missed an opportunity for global leadership on child obesity. Now it’s time to commit, say Mark Hanson and colleagues

The UK government published its report Childhood Obesity: a Plan for Action, after a protracted delay, on 18 August 2016, when parliament was in recess and the nation was focused on the success of Team GB at the Rio Olympics.1 The plan received very little media coverage or public response. There was, however, an immediate outcry from the medical and public health communities, who had hoped for much more.23456 The draft version had been 50 pages in length, but the published plan ran to just 10 pages; strong actions were conspicuous by their absence, and the desired discussion of anti-obesogenic medicine had been watered down to an emphasis on voluntary actions by industry, consumers, and schools.

One of the most important omissions was reference to the recommendations of the World Health Organization Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO).7 The final ECHO report, published in January 2016, was the culmination of about 18 months of evidence review and wide consultation. It was presented at the World Health Assembly in May 2016,8 where a decision was made to request the director general to develop an implementation plan to guide further action on the recommendations, in consultation with member states. The implementation report is now available.9

A missed opportunity for global leadership

The ECHO report directs specific actions and responsibilities to governments of member states (box 1). By not referring to it in the obesity report, the UK government missed an opportunity to show global leadership in child health by announcing advance commitment to implementing some of the ECHO commission’s recommendations—for example, an industry levy on sugar sweetened beverages, nutrient profiling to identify healthy and unhealthy foods, …

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