The Parliamentary Health Committee has recently published a report, “Childhood Obesity – Brave and Bold Action”.
One fifth of children are overweight or obese when they begin school, and this figure increases to one third by the time they leave primary school. Furthermore, the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese both at Reception and at Year 6 than the least deprived children. Obesity is a serious and growing problem for individual children and the wider population.
A summary of the report’s recommendations to address the problem is as follows:
- Strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink
- Tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink
- A centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink
- A sugary drinks tax on full sugar soft drinks, in order to help change behaviour, with all proceeds targeted to help those children at greatest risk of obesity
- Labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons
- Improved education and information about diet
- Universal school-food standards
- Greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity
- Early intervention to offer help to families of children affected by obesity
- Further research into the most effective interventions.
Nowhere on this list is the concept of parental responsibility. There is also the more general point about how far the state should or could take on responsibility for the health of individuals. Ensuring that consumers have all the facts is one thing, actively legislating against products that consumed in moderation are pleasurable to many people and cause little harm is another. It was very noticeable that the moment the health lobby had won the battle on tobacco their firepower was turned onto the next target.
Nobody could argue against the case that childhood obesity is an issue that demands action, but it does raise the issue of parental responsibility for what children put into their mouths. When we visit shops when children are coming out of school, we are often aghast at the amount of money some are spending on sugary confectionery and soft drinks. As responsible public-spirited people, some rural retailers already restrict sales on a voluntary basis. At the RSA we take the view that the vast majority of our members are responsible adults, often with children of their own, and are keen to do the right thing for the community they serve, even if this is to their own financial detriment.
The government is expected to publish its own obesity strategy early in 2016.
The Health Committee Report can be found at: