Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled new plans to halve the number of obese children by 2030.
The government intends to build on the first stage of the plan – which included a levy on high sugar soft drinks – with a raft of new measures designed to tackle the rising number of children who are overweight or obese.
These include proposals to prevent stores from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts or including it in buy-one-get-one-free deals, incentivising companies to cut the sugar and calorie content in the products they sell, and consulting on the introduction of new TV and online advertising restrictions to prevent children from being targeted by food or drink high in fat, sugar or salt.
Also, the Department of Health and Social Care will consult on introducing clear, consistent calorie labeling on menus in restaurants, cafés and takeaways, to enable parents to make an informed food choices, as well as banning the sale of energy drinks to children, after data showed these are consumed by a quarter of six- to nine-year-olds.
One in three children are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, as a result of “dangerous overconsumption, combined with reduced activity,” which is “having a catastrophic effect on our children’s health, limiting their potential and putting them at risk of a shorter life,” said public health minister Steve Brine.
“Parents want what is best for their children, but keeping them healthy and active can be difficult. It is near impossible to shield children from exposure to unhealthy foods,” added Hunt.
“The cost of obesity – both on individual lives and our NHS – is too great to ignore. Today we are taking steps to ensure that by 2030, children from all backgrounds have the help they need for a healthier, more active start in life.”
Aside from detrimental affects on health, obesity leads to conditions that directly cost the NHS around £6 billion a year to treat, and also impacts on employment, earnings and wider economic productivity.
The National Obesity Forum has “strongly welcomed” the government’s “bold and ambitious commitments”.
“If implemented, they have real potential to ensure that children in the UK will face the healthy future they deserve. For too long our environment has continually steered us towards high fat and sugar options with relentless advertising and promotions.
“There is no silver bullet to tackling childhood obesity, and these measures, alongside programmes already underway, must be sustained and built upon over the long-term if we are to see a significant reduction in the number of children with an unhealthy weight.”