Health & Social Care Committee publishes recommendations for action on childhood obesity

School lunch

Today (Wednesday 30 May 2018) the Health and Social Care Committee has published its recommendations to Government for action on childhood obesity. They span several key areas including:

The Childhood obesity plan

The Committee has identified several areas which demand attention as a matter of urgency by the Government before the next chapter of the Obesity Plan is finalised.

The Committee is calling for an effective plan with a joined-up, whole systems approach and one which focuses particularly on tackling the ever-widening health inequality due to childhood obesity between the richest and poorest areas.

Early years and schools and Services

The Committee urges the Government, and specifically the Department for Education, to review its performance in executing the measures contained in the Government’s first childhood obesity plan relating to schools. This includes a full and timely implementation of all of the measures contained in their first Childhood Obesity Action Plan, including updating the School Food Plan to account for the updated dietary recommendations for free sugars and fibre. The Committee says that School Food Standards should be mandatory for all schools including all academies, as should the Healthy Rating Scheme.

The Committee also calls for local authorities to be allowed to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas and the prevalence of HFSS food and drink billboard advertising near schools. Existing powers are not sufficient and the Committee calls for health to be made an objective within the planning system in order to give local authorities the tools they need to make effective changes at local level.

Throughout the report, the Committee emphasises the need to focus on 'healthy lifestyles' rather than using stigmatising language, citing the progress that has been made in Amsterdam using a whole systems approach. The Committee urges the Government to go further in making sure that we identify children at risk of obesity at an earlier stage and make sure that they and their families can access the right help. Prevention of obesity however is everyone’s business and the widening health inequality can no longer be ignored.

Marketing and advertising

The report endorses calls for a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising. There needs to be a ban on brand generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote HFSS products on broadcast and non-broadcast media, and the Government must align regulations on non-broadcast media with those for broadcast media.

In addition, the Government must regulate to restrict the discounting and price promotions which drive higher volumes of consumption of unhealthy food and drink. This does not need to make food more expensive as retailers could change their offers to healthier products.

The Committee also urges the Government to level the playing field for retailers and act to ban confectionery and other unhealthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts.

It says that current progress on la belling in the UK is reliant on voluntary commitments and is therefore not universally applied. Calorie labelling at point of food choice for the out-of-home food sector would provide basic information to enable healthier choices.

Rob Percival, Food for Life Policy and Campaigns Manager commented:As the Health and Social Care Committee point out, even as the Government is proposing a second Obesity Plan, we’re still waiting for the first Plan to be implemented. We’ve seen no sign of the Healthy Rating Scheme for primary schools and we’re still waiting to find out what role, if any, Ofsted will play in rating schools on school food and pupil health and wellbeing.

“Food for Life supports the Committee recommendation that all schools, including academies, should be required to meet the School Food Standards. All schools should also be incentivised through the Healthy Rating Scheme to adopt a ‘whole school approach’, such as the approach embodied in the Food for Life school award. The Government mustn’t miss this vital opportunity to empower schools to support children to eat better and reconnect with where food comes from.

“Food for Life also supports the Committee’s call for a ‘whole system approach’. Action is needed across society to improve the food environment and to make it normal, easy and enjoyable for children to eat well. Empowering local authorities is part of the solution, as the Committee proposes, but so is adequate funding. Why is the Government ploughing ahead with cuts to public health budgets, even as it aspires to tackle obesity? These cuts make no sense if the Government is genuine in its ambition.”   

You can read the full report from the Health and Social Care Committee here