The second chapter of the obesity plan finally arrived. Was it worth waiting for? A big resounding YES!

Anna Taylor

Food Foundation – Executive Director

As much as I would like to find holes in it – and there are some – there is no doubt this is a ground breaking level of ambition which is globally unprecedented.  Much praise should be heaped on the Government for grasping the nettle, particularly the officials who have toiled behind the scenes to get the various elements over the line, and the campaigners and citizens who have generated so much public demand for bold action.

So what’s on the list?

First up – a bold target – halving childhood obesity by 2030 and very importantly tackling the big gap between rich and poor.

Then they will announce plans to consult on:

  • Mandatory calorie labelling in cafes, restaurants and fast food joints – that means calories on menus.
  • Banning of junk food advertising on TV up to the 9pm watershed (hats off to Jamie and his team for their brilliant campaign on this). This was top of the list from the 70+ experts who fed into our Food Environment Policy Index project.
  • Restricting price promotions which encourage over consumption of junk food both in shops and when we’re eating out, which hopefully means those bottomless fizzy drinks for kids are on the way out!
  • Ending the sale of energy drinks to children – that’s no energy drinks at all for anyone under 18.
  • Restricting positioning of junk food in prominent places like end of aisle or check out – again in cafes and restaurants as well as supermarkets.
  • The threat of an extension of the sugar levy if the voluntary sugar reduction and calories reduction programmes don’t deliver.
  • A big new programme with local authorities to show what can be done with planning restrictions and work on the business case for action – that should help to tackle high streets over run with fast food takeaways.
  • More work in schools – giving Ofsted a bigger role in checking what schools are doing to support healthy eating and exercise.
  • One which we are particularly celebrating: increasing the voucher value of Healthy Start, the programme aimed at low income mums.
  • And strengthening the nutrition elements of the Government Buying Standards – this is meant to help to ensure publicly procured food (hospitals, schools, prisons, military etc) have better nutritional standards. This one is good in principle, but in practice no one really knows whether the standards are being used as they’re not mandatory.

This is an impressive list, but we can’t count on much of it yet because it has to be consulted on.  This is fair enough, but it does mean 12 weeks of consultation period and then more time for drawing up the various policies. We mustn’t forget that there is lots of scope for watering this down. We have to keep up the pressure and continue to make the case for why these measures matter so much for the health of our kids.

But it’s only impressive if it’s actually delivered.   We did a little review of what’s been done since the last plan was announced nearly 2 years ago (see here), and it’s frankly a dismal record of progress.  Great work on the sugar tax and progress on the sugar reduction plan but many of the original plans have yet to be implemented.  This is why we are calling for the government to have a Task Force which monitors progress towards the 2030 target.  It should be chaired by a Minister and include external people (like us!) to hold their feet to the fire.  It’s no good getting a load of positive headlines and then failing to deliver.

And as for what’s missing – well there’s not a lot on children’s early years – and this is the time which really matters. We currently have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and only voluntary guidance for food in nurseries.  And frankly while we’re at it we should ban junk food sponsoring of sports, as the 70+ experts in our Food-EPI project agreed was one part of the #1 policy priority for obesity (have you seen all the junk food ads during the World Cup?).  And I would hope for this plan to be part of a much more concerted effort by the whole of government to get our food system on track for both healthy eating and environmental sustainability and protection.  Michael Gove and DEFRA are thinking about that – so let’s wait and see, but would be fantastic to have these conversations in a joined-up approach

I’m beginning to imagine my ten-year-old’s son telling his children – “when I was a kid we ate all of these foods which made us fat and unhealthy, and now they’re no longer allowed”.  Exciting times indeed.