In the U.K.’s Childhood Obesity Fight, You Can’t Please Everyone

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Last summer, when the United Kingdom issued the long-anticipated blueprint titled “Childhood obesity: a plan for action,” many people felt let down, for a variety of reasons. The “bold and brave actions” and “game-changing response” promised by politicians fell short of the mark. Some of the disappointed people lived in the United States, and had entertained hopes that England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, countries so like us in many ways, might have come up with a few answers.

Sadly, Great Britain failed to meet expectations, even its own. When the plan was released, the blowback from some quarters was ferocious. David Buck of The King’s Fund, which appears to be what we call a “think tank,” chastised the administration for not taking a firmer stand:

To have any chance of working, voluntary action must be backed up with strong, swift and credible threats of regulation. But the plan is unbearably weak on this, stating that if there has not been sufficient progress by 2020 then the government will “use other levers to achieve the same aim”.

The Commons Health Select Committee, made up of members of Parliament, even described itself as disappointed, to The Guardian‘s health editor, Sarah Boseley. They felt that the officials in charge had started off on the wrong foot by neglecting to set clear goals in the first place, and then had ignored what experts tried to tell them.

To top it all off, the government did not go far enough toward making a law with teeth in it. The committee demanded “tough new measures to tackle childhood obesity — including a restriction on supermarkets offering ‘deep discounts’ on unhealthy foods.”

Also:

The Committee of Advertising Practice, a sister organization of the Advertising Standards Authority, has announced new restrictions on advertisements for high-fat and high-sugar foods on non-broadcast media — such as on smartphones — but the select committee said that was not enough.

The select committee also had concerns about where the money from the upcoming soft drinks tax will go, and included an assurance that it will be keeping an eye on that revenue stream:

The report welcomes the Government’s positive response to the Committee’s recommendation that the proceeds of the soft drinks industry levy should be directed towards measures to improve children’s health including through increasing access to school sports and to breakfast clubs. The Committee will follow up how the income from the levy is distributed, including the ways in which this can help to reduce the inequalities arising from childhood obesity.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was upset because the government did not see fit to restrict junk food ads on the telly. Referring to yet another area of contention Boseley wrote:

The British Retail Consortium [trade association] had told the committee that regulation was needed to ensure that all supermarkets and other shops stop promotions of high-fat and high-sugar foods, but the government ignored that recommendation.

First, why would the industry ask for regulations against itself? And maybe, in the light of recent studies and revelations, high-fat foods are not as harmful if they are fresh and real.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The childhood obesity plan — brave and bold action?,” KingsFund.org, 08/26/16
Source: “Supermarkets must stop discounting unhealthy foods to tackle child obesity, say Mps,” TheGuardian.com, 03/26/17
Source: “Government is missing important opportunities to tackle childhood obesity,” Parliament.uk, 03/27/17
Photo credit: shirokazan via Visualhunt/CC BY

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