The Department of Health has announced £5 million of funding for a new obesity policy research unit at University College London, tasked with investigating the deeper causes of childhood obesity and supporting delivery of the childhood obesity plan.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Obesity Policy Research Unit has been established to provide resource for long-term research into childhood obesity and develop a deeper understanding of its causes, looking at social inequalities, the early years of childhood, and marketing to children and families.
It will also help to assess the action taken so far to reign in the growing trend of obesity in children, to ensure that current strategy is effective for those who need it most, as well as provide independent advice to policy makers and analysts going forward.
The government has also announced that it has asked Public Health England to look into and reduce calorie intake in children, on the back of data showing that one in three children are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, and that more children in the UK than ever are being diagnosed with type II diabetes.
Ready meals, pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches are the kinds of foods likely to be included in the programme, which will follow action already taken to cut the level of sugar in many products.
“Too many of our children are growing up obese, which can lead to serious health complications,” said health minister Philip Dunne. “We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.”
PHE will publish its findings in early 2018, after which it will then consult with the food industry, trade bodies and health non-governmental organisations to develop guidance and timelines for the calorie reduction programme.
But the Obesity Health Alliance has warned that plans to reduce childhood obesity are failing to tackle “the relentless exposure of children to junk food advertising on TV and online”.
“Good progress has been made over the last year with strong measures to reduce sugar from foods and drink and we look forward to seeing ambitious targets for industry to make the food we eat less calorific. However, we can’t ignore the fact that the food industry continues to get away with bombarding children with adverts that we know encourage unhealthy food choices,” noted Caroline Cerny, Alliance lead.
“The existing regulations are full of loopholes and don’t reflect the way children watch TV or online content. Failing to tackle this area is significantly undermining the impact of the Childhood Obesity Plan. After one year, it is scraping along with a C grade, rather than topping the class with an A star.”