Time to step up the UK’s child obesity fight: Will 2022 be a breakthrough year for change?
07 Jan 2022 --- The year 2022 may see the UK take concrete action on tackling child obesity, as the issue has become more severe, particularly in light of lockdown lifestyles, deputy chief executive of Sustain, Ben Reynolds, tells NutritionInsight.
“The UK has put in place some of the most progressive policies to tackle child obesity, due in part to the severity of the problem. The appetite to act is there amongst some key parts of government and industry, and the evidence is mounting up, not only around child obesity but to break the junk food cycle and moreover fix our faulty food system.”
Previous figures noted childhood obesity costs the NHS an estimated £6.1 billion (US$7.9 billion), costing wider society £27 billion (US$35.1 billion) annually. Meanwhile, the UK government last year announced it would allot £100 million (US$139 million) to help support children, adults and families achieve and maintain healthy weights.
“We’re in danger of sounding like a stuck record around child obesity, but the latest figures, linked to lockdown lifestyles, have seen a further rise and a greater need for action,” highlights Reynolds.
Alarming figures have prompted calls for the nutrition industry to step up after it emerged obesity was a factor in more than one million admissions to the NHS.
From strategy to implementation
Last year, the second part of the UK National Food Strategy was unveiled, seeking to escape the food junk cycle, create a long-term shift in food culture, reduce diet-related inequality and make the best use of land.
The report was led by Henry Dimbleby, who co-founded the Leon restaurant chain and now serves as a lead non-executive board member of the department for environment, food and rural affairs. It is the first major UK food system review in almost 75 years. The UK government is expected to respond to the Food Strategy recommendations in late spring, according to Reynolds.
“Will the government act on all the recommendations in this strategy? Unlikely at first, but eventually, I think we’ll see most of these recommendations happening – the question is how long it will take.”
Reynolds expects that some companies may look to product lines that can help them get ahead of the curve. For instance, one of the strategy’s recommendations is a sugar and salt reformulation tax. Rather than wait until the government introduces it, they may begin preparing in advance.
“We saw the same with the soft drinks industry levy – they said they weren’t going to introduce one up until they announced its introduction.”
Nonetheless, there is ample space for companies to take action without needing to wait for government mandates, he adds.
“There is certainly more that industry can do voluntarily to stave off government needing to take action – such as changing the products promoted for healthier options. Equally the sports industry – sport by sport, club by club, star by star can make a choice over who they take sponsorship from and put pressure on the food industry to change.”
As part of the fight against obesity, the UK government aims to restrict the in-store promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) from October 2022.
“There are some major opportunities over 2022 for improving the health and sustainability of our food,” highlights Reynold.
One of these is a commitment from the UK government prohibiting advertisements of HFSS foods on TV before 9 p.m. and online entirely from April 2022.
Additionally, Reynolds also hopes there can be more progress to see England and Northern Ireland catch up with Scotland and Wales in extending free school meal provision to help tackle child food insecurity.
Campaigners are also asking the government to take action to remove junk food advertising from the sports industry. According to a report which Sustain was involved with, 90% of parents said the marketing of junk food through sport made it harder for them to feed their children a healthier diet.
By Andria Kades
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.
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