Childhood obesity: a plan for action

18 August 2016

On 18 August 2016, the government published a ‘plan for action’ on childhood obesity. This followed a call from the Health Select Committee for ‘brave and bold action’ in its 2015 inquiry report on childhood obesity. In 2016, almost one in three children in the UK aged 2–15 were overweight or obese and Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) described the issue as a ‘national emergency’.

The plan re-emphasised the government commitment to introduce a UK tax for producers and importers of soft drinks based on their sugar content from April 2018 (announced in the March 2016 budget) and included a voluntary scheme for the food and drink industry to take 20% of sugar out of products across nine categories of food and drink by 2020.

Response

The government’s plan received criticism from commentators in the third sector, media and industry, particularly regarding the voluntary rather than mandatory nature of the sugar reduction plan. Critics felt the plan lacked detail and vision.

In October 2016, an episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches programme focused on the government’s plan and reported that its ambitions and targets had been considerably watered-down before publication. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health Nicola Blackwood faced multiple questions about whether this was the case in a debate in the House of Commons on 15 November 2016.

On 30 May 2018, the Health Select Committee published a report entitled Childhood obesity: Time for action. In this report, the Committee summarised their inquiry into progress on the 2016 plan and made strong recommendations that a further government plan should include wide-ranging policies on marketing and advertising, takeaways, schools, labelling and more.

Chapter 2 of the plan

On 25 June 2018, the government published chapter 2 of its plan for action on childhood obesity, which set a national target to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

The plan included commitments to:

  • consider adding milk drinks to the tax on sugar content
  • consult on ending the sale of energy drinks to children, on introducing a 9pm watershed for junk food advertising, on introducing calorie labelling on menus, and on ending price promotions.

Among other initiatives, chapter 2 included support for local areas and initiatives in schools.

Response to chapter 2

Response to the plan was mixed. In the House of Lords, Baroness Thornton said '[chapter 1] scored a C-minus at best among noble Lords. Today we have chapter 2, which we can probably score as a C'.

Over the course of 2018, the government’s childhood obesity strategy was the subject of multiple debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords, with questions raised over progress on its implementation. 

On 23 July 2019, the government published a third chapter of the childhood obesity plan as part of its Prevention Green Paper.

Source(s)

House of Commons Health Committee.
Childhood obesity— brave and bold action.
HMSO; 2015.

Department of Health and Social Care.
Childhood obesity: a plan for action.
HMSO; 2016.

Action on Sugar.
Childhood obesity: a plan for action [webpage].
Action on Sugar; 2016.

House of Commons.
Childhood Obesity Strategy: 15 November 2016, Volume 617.
Hansard; 2016.

House of Commons Health Committee.
Childhood obesity— Time for action.
HMSO; 2018.

Department of Health and Social Care.
Childhood obesity: a plan for action chapter 2.
HMSO; 2018.

House of Commons.
Childhood Obesity Strategy: 25 June 2018, Volume 792.
Hansard; 2018.