Childhood obesity plan ‘watered down by government’, TV investigation claims

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Government has been accused of watering down a series of plans aimed at tackling childhood obesity, a Channel 4 investigation will claim today.

"It's not too late for the Government to reconsider advertising restrictions. Taking bold action will protect our children's health right now and prevent thousands of cancers in the future" Chit Selvarajah, Cancer Research UK

Curbs on junk food advertising and restrictions on unhealthy product placement in supermarkets were among measures cut from a draft of strategy before it was published, according to details released ahead of tonight’s Dispatches programme.

A first draft of the plan that was leaked to the programme is claimed to contain a pledge to halve the number of overweight children by 2026 - a cut of about 800,000 cases.

This, it says, was changed to a pledge to "significantly reduce" the number of overweight children when the full strategy was released in August.

TV chef and healthy food campaigner Jamie Oliver told the Dispatches programme: "This should go to the Trades Description Act because that says an 'action plan' and there's hardly any action in there.

"When you look at how the plan came out at midnight, next to the A Level results, while the whole of government's on holiday, it absolutely screams out we don't care.

The programme will claim that several proposals were removed from the published strategy, including:

  • Forcing restaurants, cafes and takeaways to put calorie information on menus
  • Making supermarkets remove junk food from around check-outs and the end of aisles
  • Limiting buy-one-get-one-free and other multi-buy discounts of unhealthy foods
  • Curbs to junk food advertising, including commercial breaks in and around popular Saturday night television programmes

Doctors, health campaigners and politicians criticised the long-awaited plan when it was published in August.

Key elements of the plan include cutting sugar in foods eaten by children by 20 per cent and a tax on sugary drinks to raise money for school sports.

But ministers were accused of watering down the strategy when it was released. Health Secretary,Jeremy Hunt, had previously said the plan needed to be a ''game-changing” in order to tackle a "national emergency''.

Chit Selvarajah, Cancer Research UK policy manager, said: "It's disheartening that vital measures were removed from the Government’s plan at the final stage. While we applaud the Government's commitment to the sugar tax, we need further action to prevent children being bombarded with junk food advertising.

“It's not too late for the Government to reconsider advertising restrictions. Taking bold action will protect our children's health right now and prevent thousands of cancers in the future."

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A Department of Health spokesman described the published plan as "ground-breaking", adding: "No other developed country has done anything as ambitious.

"The Government has intentionally taken a careful and measured approach which will reduce obesity.

"We are taking bold action through the Soft Drinks Industry Levy to cut the amount of sugar consumed by young people. Alongside this, our restrictions on advertising and promotion are among the toughest in the world.

  • Dispatches: The Secret Plan To Save Fat Britain, is on Channel 4 at 8pm.