23 Nov 2017 Priorities in tackling obesity for future governments
The news from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that the UK is the most obese country in Western Europe doesn’t really come as a big surprise. Whilst Public Health England claim their plans to tackle obesity are “among the most ambitious” (Dr Alison Tedstone quoted in The Guardian on 11.11.17), we have a long way to go to achieve change (as Dr Tedstone concedes later).
We need much less emphasis on the individual and much more on the environment. Less of the victim blaming and more responsibility taken by organisations who help to shape our communities. We are surrounded by junk food and bombarded with messages to buy sugary drinks and processed food. It’s sometimes cheaper to buy alcohol than bottled water. And our town and city centres are built around cars rather pedestrians and bicycles. It is no wonder that our children are overweight and their parents, even more so. The personal and economic cost to our nation is immense and will increase. The cost of treating Type 2 diabetes alone could cripple the Health Service.
So, let’s be honest, when the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan was released last year, it was disappointing. Whilst the introduction of a soft drinks levy (previously announced) in 2018 was confirmed along with other positive measures such as making healthy options available in the public sector and a wider sugar and calorie reduction programme, there was also much omitted which health campaigners were hoping for. In particular, effectively addressing junk food marketing to children on new media (social media, websites, and advergames) and price promotions on unhealthy food and beverages in supermarkets.
The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) – of which Food Active is a member – has called for urgent action in 10 areas.
Food Active’s Director of Research, Robin Ireland, spoke at a Socialist Health Alliance Public Health Conference* in November where he was tasked to give his five top priorities for ‘Health Behaviours’ for a future Labour Government. He headlined the OHA’s first priority above as follows:
“A Labour Government should close existing loopholes to restrict children’s exposure to junk food marketing across all the media they are exposed to. This should include updating current broadcast regulations with a 9pm watershed on advertising of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt to protect children during family viewing time and taking action to ensure online restrictions apply to all content watched by children. In addition rules should be extended to cover sponsorship of sports and family attractions and marketing communications in schools”.
We have allowed companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to brand our communities sport and leisure programmes from the former’s ParkLives to McDonald’s grassroots football activities. Food Active is tasking the public sector to take a strong stand on its commercial arrangements with corporations and understand the real cost of allowing unhealthy diets is rising levels of overweight and obesity with a disproportionate impact on the socially and economically disadvantaged.
Similarly, future governments need to consider what legislation is required to restrict junk food marketing. If we don’t get it right, our children aren’t going to thank us.
Robin Ireland and Beth Bradshaw, Food Active
*The presentation given to the Socialist Health Association Conference: Public Health Priorities for Labour on 24th November can be found here: Socialist Health Association Conference – Robin Ireland