William Eichler 27 March 2017

Childhood obesity could ‘bankrupt health and social care’, councils say

MPs warn the Government is missing opportunities to tackle childhood obesity, as councils say weight-related illnesses could ‘bankrupt health and social care’.

A new report from the Health Committee has called on Whitehall to take ‘more robust action’ to tackle promotions on the sales of unhealthy food and drink.

Published today, the committee’s report said the Government should introduce more regulations to create ‘a level playing field’ for retailers who act responsibly on discounts and promotions.

It also said that while it welcomed the sugary drinks levy, Whitehall’s plan to fight obesity — announced last August — was ‘extremely’ disappointing.

‘We are extremely disappointed that the Government has rejected a number of our recommendations,’ said committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston.

‘These omissions mean that the current plan misses important opportunities to tackle childhood obesity.’

The committee said manufacturers should pass on the cost of the levy to ensure that there is a price differential at the point of sale between high- and low- or no-sugar drinks. They argued this would help maximise the ‘nudge’ to healthier choices.

‘Vague statements about seeing how the current plan turns out are inadequate to the seriousness and urgency of this major public health challenge,’ Dr Wollaston continued.

‘The Government must set clear goals for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity as well as goals for reducing the unacceptable and widening levels of inequality.’

The Health Committee welcomed Whitehall’s adoption of their recommendation to use the proceeds from the soft drink levy to pay for measures, such as access to school sports, that could contribute to improving the health of children.

Cllr Linda Thomas, vice chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, welcomed the report and warned of the impact obesity has on health care services.

‘Today's obese children will be tomorrow's obese adults,’ she said.

‘Councils have long-warned that unless we take decisive action, both individually and through targeted initiatives, the potential consequences of obesity on people's health, such as diabetes and heart conditions, could be devastating and will bankrupt health and social care.’

‘We have called for fundamental reforms, such as a mandatory reduction of sugar in soft drinks, better sugar labelling on food and drink products, calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, and for councils to be given powers to ban junk food advertising near schools.

‘We believe that these measures, which would help to promote greater individual responsibility, could help to significantly reduce childhood obesity.’

Cllr Thomas warned that while local authorities were doing everything they could to fight obesity, cuts to public health services are making this increasingly difficult.

Since councils took over responsibility for public health three years ago, they have spent half a billion pounds dealing with obesity issues, she said.

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