PHE announces next stage of childhood obesity plan

Public Health England (PHE) has announced that it will be evaluating the evidence on children’s calorie consumption and setting the ambition for the calorie reduction programme to remove excess calories from the foods children consume the most.

Ready meals, pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches are the types of foods likely to be included in the programme.

The soft drinks industry levy has become law and will come into effect in April 2018. PHE has formulated a sugar reduction programme with the aim of a 20% reduction in sugar in key foods by 2020. Leading retailers and manufacturers have also announced that they are, or already have, lowered the amount of sugar in their products as a result of these programmes.

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation says, “We are pleased that the government has confirmed the broadening of its focus beyond just sugar – and towards calories – as it seeks to tackle obesity. FDF has long advocated this ‘whole diet’ approach.

“Food and drink companies continue to play their part to help people who are concerned about their weight by making available new, healthier options, by providing on-pack nutrition information and by supporting physical activity initiatives.

“Our industry has a proud track record of reformulation to remove salt, fat and sugar from food and drinks.  This work will continue as we rise to the challenge of PHE’s sugar reduction targets and engage with this new focus on calories.”

Adults currently consume on average between 200 to 300 calories too many each day and children are following suit, with food more readily available than ever before. Reducing calorie consumption from sources other than sugar is critical to reversing the worrying obesity trend, which shows that one in three children are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school; more children in the UK than previously are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, some as young as seven; children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be obese.

Philip Dunne, minister of state for health, comments, “Too many of our children are growing up obese, which can lead to serious health complications. We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.”

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, adds, “A third of children leave primary school overweight or obese and an excess of calories – not just excess sugar consumption – is the root cause of this.

“We will work with the food companies and retailers to tackle this as the next critical step in combating our childhood obesity problem.”

PHE will publish the evidence in early 2018. Following this it will then consult with the food industry, trade bodies and health non-governmental organisations to develop guidance and timelines for the calorie reduction programme.

The Department of Health has also funded the £5 million National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Obesity Research Policy Unit at University College London (UCL), which will look to develop a deeper understanding on the causes of childhood obesity, including marketing to children and families, social inequalities, and the early years of childhood.

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