Health leaders warn PM: No U-turn on children’s health


Leaders from Britain’s biggest health and medical organizations today warned the Prime Minister, urging him not to water down new legislation that could prevent thousands of children from developing overweight and obesity.

Members of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of health organizations including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians, say rapid action to tackle obesity is crucial if the government meets its obesity halving targets in children by 2030, narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy and tackling the NHS backlog.

The warning comes after persistent rumors that the Prime Minister and his new political leader, Andrew Griffith MP, are being heavily swayed by the advertising industry and by multinational food companies to delay and water down new legislation to limit multiple purchases of unhealthy food in stores and a Turning point at 9pm on TV and a total ban on junk food advertising online. A concession would see the government abandon repeated commitments on the measures, most recently Health Minister Sajid Javid, who just last week insisted the government is absolutely committed to the measures. Parliament passed the advertising restrictions into law last November and is currently on track to do the same for the advertising restrictions.

It would also go against public opinion what new polls has revealed that he supports stricter rules on junk food marketing tactics:

  • 74% of people support stopping junk food ads on TV before 9pm
  • 74% of people support stopping junk food advertising online
  • 72% would like restrictions on stores advertising unhealthy food in prominent areas such as checkouts and store entrances
  • 57% welcome restrictions on multi-buy promotional offers (e.g. “buy one get one free)” for unhealthy food in stores

Childhood obesity is now at a devastating all-time high, rising 4.6% in the last year alone. 28% of children now start primary school at a weight classified as overweight or obese, with the proportion rising to 41% by 11-12 year olds. Children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be obese as the most affluent children, meaning tackling obesity is a key part of the UK’s betterment.

Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at the Obesity Health Alliance said:

In 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised the nation he would make healthier choices easier for everyone. If he backtracked on those promises now, he would leave the legacy as the leader who repealed laws that would prevent thousands of children from developing obesity.”

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK said:

“These proposed restrictions – which the Prime Minister supported – are crucial to reducing childhood obesity, preventing more cancers in the future and saving lives. The evidence has not changed, indeed the necessity Act only grows as childhood obesity increases. We call on the Prime Minister to hold on and put the health of nations first and not bow to industry pressures.”

dr Charmaine Griffiths, Executive Director of the British Heart Foundation said:

“Tackling the UK’s stubbornly high obesity rates will take far, far more than personal willpower. It is simply impossible to expect that we can improve life expectancy in the poorest communities in the UK without fully implementing the landmark obesity strategy.”

Chris Askew OBE, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK said: “Living with overweight and obesity is one of the main risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. With nearly 1,600 children and young people in England now living with the disease, there is no doubt that urgent action is needed to improve the health of our nation.

“Type 2 diabetes is very serious, especially for children, so the prospect of these important measures being canceled is extremely worrying.

“The government must build on and not abandon its recent commitments to prevent overweight and obesity, as the need to support people to lead healthier lives and reduce obesity is clearly more important than ever. ”

Professor Rachel Batterham, Special Adviser on Obesity to the Royal College of Physicians said: “It is incredibly worrying to hear that the Prime Minister could be backtracking on plans to stem the tide of aggressive marketing of unhealthy food and drink. This could have devastating consequences, especially for children and young people.

“Around one in five children in the UK lives with obesity and we now know a lot more about why. Some people have genes that protect them from developing obesity, and others have genes that make them more prone to gaining weight.

“If we lived in a healthy environment it wouldn’t be such a problem, but we aren’t. We are surrounded by foods high in fat, salt and sugar and endless calls to eat them. That’s why taking action to curb marketing tactics like buy one get one free and promoting junk food at checkouts and aisles is so important.”


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