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MPs make clear the need for action on sugar and obesity

Calls to implement measures to combat rising levels of obesity in the UK were heightened this week with the publication of the Health Select Committee’s report ‘Childhood obesity- brave and bold action‘.

The report has been released at a time of growing alarm in the UK around levels of obesity, particularly among school children. As the report says:

One fifth of children are overweight or obese when they begin school, and this figure increases to one third by the time they leave primary school… Treating obesity and its consequences is currently estimated to cost the NHS £1.5bn every year. It is one of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for spending of £8.8bn a year, almost 9% of the NHS budget.

Clearly, there is a need for urgent kind of action from the Government to help address the growing problem. While much of the media attention surrounding the publication of the report has focused on the implementation of a sugary drinks tax (in part thanks to Jamie Oliver who recently spoke to Committee and an APPG for Diabetes meeting), the report includes recommendations across several different areas noting:

No one single area offers a solution in itself, but we see a strong case for implementing changes in all of these areas.

Reflecting on evidence gathered from key stakeholders, the recommendations the report makes include:

  • Strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink
  • Tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink
  • A centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink
  • A sugary drinks tax on full sugar soft drinks, in order to help change behaviour, with all proceeds targeted to help those children at greatest risk of obesity
  • Labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons
  • Improved education and information about diet
  • Universal school food standards
  • Greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity
  • Early intervention to offer help to families of children affected by obesity and further research into the most effective interventions.

The APPG for Diabetes welcomes the report’s recommendations and the recognition that a package of measures is needed for reducing childhood obesity. In regards to a sugar tax it should be noted that people living with Type 1 diabetes and some people living with Type 2 diabetes rely on high sugar products to treat low blood glucose levels. It is therefore important that any sugar tax introduced doesn’t negatively impact on the way people with diabetes treat manage their condition.

The publication of the Committee’s report coincided with a debate in Parliament on an e-petition concerning proposals for a tax on sugary drinks.

The debate heard from MPs from all parties, many of whom recognised the potential health benefits of introducing a sugar tax as a way to tackle childhood obesity. Most also stressed that a sugary drinks tax needed to be part of a package of interventions rather than as a standalone intervention in order to achieve any real impact. A few MPs suggested that more needed to be on others areas, such as nutritional labeling or advertising to young children, before the a sugary drinks tax is considered.

Responding for the Government, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison promised to look in greater detail at the Committee’s report to further inform ongoing policy development on the area of childhood obesity. It was made clear that the Government currently has no plans to introduce a sugar tax, although all taxes are kept under review. The Government is expected to release its Childhood Obesity Strategy early in the new year.

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