By Sue Reeves
On the 25 June the Department of Health and Social Care launched Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action, Chapter 2. This document builds on the original childhood obesity plan and outlines the government’s aim to halve childhood obesity by the year 2030. Some of the new proposals are outlined below.
Currently in the UK, almost a third of children aged 2-15 are overweight or obese and obesity rates are highest in children living in the most deprived areas. Reducing childhood obesity is not going to be straightforward; it will require a multifaceted cross-sector approach that encourages healthy behaviours without stigmatising obesity.
As well as advertising, the ubiquitous availability of unhealthy food can contribute to the obesogenic environment. When healthy food is available we eat more of it, as such increasing promotions on healthy food and making healthier food more convenient are therefore sensible strategies. The new plan also intends to restrict promotions on foods high in fat and sugar and remove them from till points which may help reduce last minute purchases of such foods and possibly even reduce opportunities for pester power. Furthermore there are proposals to mandate calorie labelling on takeaways and in restaurants since we are eating outside of the home more frequently; a recent Food Standards Agency report showed that 75% of people surveyed had eaten outside the home in the previous week.
Consultation on the banning of the sale of energy drinks to children is also underway. Given that many of the leading supermarkets have already banned the selling of these drinks to those under 16, there should be no reason to delay on this action.
Whilst these initiatives are well intentioned and a step in the right direction, it should not be forgotten that obesity is a complex condition influenced by genetic, behavioural and environmental factors, including socio-economic ones. There is not going to be one simple solution, a whole systems approach that encourages healthy living and avoids stigmatisation is necessary.
Sue Reeves is the Head of Undergraduate Provision and Student Experience in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Roehampton, as well as being a Registered Nutritionist and Fellow of the Association for Nutrition. She was recently awarded a Visiting Research Scholarship at St John’s College, University of Oxford. She has been the external examiner at Trinity St David’s and Oxford Brookes Universities and is a CPD assessor for the Association of Nutrition. She is currently part of an international team that has been awarded an MRC grant to investigate obesity related behaviours among pre-schoolers in Malaysia.