Burger obesity


The government has launched what it claimed is a “far reaching plan” to tackle childhood obesity, with the controversial soft drinks tax as its centrepiece.

Alongside the soft drinks levy it has also revealed plans for a series of voluntary reformulation targets across other key contributors to sugar intake.

The Treasury has launched a consultation on the introduction of the tax, which was announced by former chancellor George Osborne and is due to come into force in April 2018. Yet it stopped short of bowing to health campaigners’ calls for a clampdown on so-called junk food promotions in store.

Aside from the tax the main industry facing measure is set to be a raft of sugar reduction targets across products popular with children, with the government out to achieve a 20% reduction by 2020.

Companies will be able to achieve the targets via a combination of reformulation and smaller portions, with progress reviewed every six months by Public Health England.

Meanwhile money raised from the levy will be invested in programmes to reduce obesity and encourage physical activity and balanced diets for school children.

The DH said it would double the primary PE and Sport Premium to help pupils be more active and inject a further £10m per year into school breakfast clubs.

“The Soft Drinks Industry Levy is an important step forward in the fight to halt our obesity crisis and create a Britain fit for the future,” said financial secretary and former health minister Jane Ellison.

“The Soft Drinks Industry Levy is an important step forward in the fight to halt our obesity crisis and create a Britain fit for the future

Jane Ellison, financial secretary and former health minister

“Obesity is a threat to both to the health of children, and to our economy, costing the NHS billions of pounds every year. The planned levy is already showing how it can be a powerful signal for change and I urge companies to reformulate their products before it starts in 2018.”

New public health minister Nicola Blackwood added: “This government is absolutely committed to reducing childhood obesity and one of the best ways to do this is to boost sports in schools. Team GB has been a huge inspiration at the Rio Olympics. We need to keep that inspiration alive when children go back to school in September - that’s why we’re asking schools and parents to ensure children do an extra hour an of physical activity every day.”

The government plan also asks primary schools to help every pupil get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.

It is also developing a healthy rating scheme which will recognise how primary schools support their pupils to eat healthily and move more and how they can improve further; which Ofsted will take account of in school inspections.

It will also look to develop clearer information about the food families, claiming the UK’s decision to leave the EU would give the government greater flexibility to determine what information should be presented on packaged food, on top of the existing traffic light scheme.

“This plan is the first step on the long road to tackling childhood obesity - one of the most important issues for the future of our children,” said Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie. “It outlines significant steps to tackle the problem head on including a commitment to introduce a levy on sugary drinks and an ambitious programme to reduce the level of sugar in food and drink, which we are proud to be leading on.”


However, the plans met with outrage from health campaigners who accused prime minister Theresa May of “failing the nation”.

Action on Sugar said it was “appalling” that no further action to improve the strategy had been taken since the leaked report was publically critisised last month.

“The failed Responsibility Deal has already proved that voluntary measures do not work,” said AOS chairman Professor Graham MacGregor. “Given the shockingly high levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes and the enormous impact on the NHS, we no longer have the time or luxury to merely ‘challenge’ the industry to take responsibility. This is an unforgivable, missed opportunity to launch, what should have been, one of the UK’s most important public health programmes.”

Malcolm Clark, director of the Children’s Food Campaign, called the plans were a complete climbdown by the government in the face of industry pressure.

“For months and months we have been promised that the strategy was primarily focused on nutrition, about sugar in our foods about changing the way the industry acts but now the focus is all about physical exercise,” he said.

“It’s been massively watered down and is now no longer even being called a strategy but a plan.”

Clarke said the money promised to schools came from the March budget and was “nothing new” but he added: “If the industry doesn’t immediately drop its Can the Tax campaign it will be obvious to everyone that it is the FDF that is getting in the way of £130m going to primary schools and it will be on their heads.”

However, BSDA director general Gavin Partington said:

“Given the economic uncertainty our country now faces we’re disappointed the government wishes to proceed with a measure which analysis suggests will cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity. We’ll share the evidence during this consultation in the hope Ministers reconsider a measure that is both unnecessary and harmful to the economy.”

We’re disappointed the government wishes to proceed with a measure which analysis suggests will cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity

BSDA director general Gavin Partington

FDF director general Ian Wright welcomed the focus on setting voluntary targets but also attacked the sugar levy.

“The proposed tax on soft drinks is a disappointing diversion from effective measures to tackle obesity. Soft drink companies are already making great progress to reduce sugars from their products, having achieved a 16% reduction between 2012 and 2016. Indeed, many individual manufacturers have a proud track record of reformulation to remove salt, fat and sugar from food and drinks and this work will continue,” he argued.

“However the target set for sugars reduction in the Plan is flawed. It focuses too strongly on the role of this single nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient. Moreover the target is unlikely to be technically practical across all the selected food categories. Reformulation is difficult and costly: there are different challenges for each product; recipe change can only proceed at a pace dictated by consumers. We will of course do everything we can in the next six months to work towards a practicable reformulation solution while continuing to urge the Government to adopt a ‘whole diet’ approach.”