Plans to restrict junk food advertising and promotional deals on unhealthy foods for kids have been axed from the strategy, after May overruled the health secretary and said the economy must take priority, The Times reported.
Oliver said the long-awaited plans were unclear and “suggestive” rather than making mandatory requirements to prevent obesity among kids, meaning “the health of our future generations remains at stake”.
He said he couldn’t understand why what should have been “one of the most important health initiatives of our time” has been published on Thursday during the recess period, when parliament is not sitting.
The new strategy puts an emphasis on more physical activity in schools, as well as a ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Red Bull that will come into force from 2018.
But there is no attempt to rein back advertising aimed at kids and many of its ideas, such as a scheme for the food industry to reduce sugar in children’s foods, are voluntary.
Oliver said “so much is missing” from the plans, which made no mention of “irresponsible advertising targeted at our children”.
He said the “underwhelming” plans were “not enough” and the Government had missed “Britain’s opportunity to lead the way and to implement real, meaningful environmental change”.
“I’m in shock,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “The long-awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy from Theresa May’s new Government is far from robust, and I don’t know why it was shared during recess. It contains a few nice ideas, but so much is missing.
“It was set to be one of the most important health initiatives of our time, but look at the words used – ‘should, might, we encourage’ – too much of it is voluntary, suggestive, where are the mandatory points?
“Where are the actions on the irresponsible advertising targeted at our children, and the restrictions on junk food promotions? The sugary drinks tax seems to be the only clear part of this strategy, and with funds going directly to schools that’s great, but in isolation it’s not enough.
“This strategy was Britain’s opportunity to lead the way and to implement real, meaningful environmental change, to start removing the crippling financial burden from our NHS and reversing the tide of diet-related disease.
“With this disappointing, and frankly, underwhelming strategy the health of our future generations remains at stake. I sincerely hope the Government’s promise to ‘take further action where it is needed’ is true…”
In July, Oliver urged Theresa May not to water down the strategy, declaring he would “do anything” to help.
As part of his guest editorship of The Huffington Post UK, the TV chef pleaded with the new Prime Minister to act swiftly, and warned that the issue would be a key test of her pledge for real change in the UK.
Research from market research agency Future Thinking found that nearly half (48%) of consumers agree with the sugar tax, and a large proportion want more products beyond soft drinks to be included.
PA reported that the new strategy includes:
- Ministers hope the food industry will cut 20% of sugar from the products children enjoy such as cereals, yoghurts, sweets, breads and desserts over the next five years, with a 5% cut in the first year.
- Public Health England (PHE) will set targets for sugar content per 100g of product and calorie caps for specific single-serving products, initially for breakfast cereals, yoghurts, biscuits, cakes, confectionery, pastries, puddings, ice cream and sweet spreads, then other foods. From 2017, the programme will be extended to include targets to reduce total calories in a wider range of products.
- PHE will also report on whether the industry is reducing sugar content through the voluntary scheme and if it is deemed that insufficient progress has been made, the Government will consider “whether alternative levers need to be used”.
- The Government’s sugar tax on soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Red Bull will come into force from 2018. The money raised will be put towards sports in schools and school breakfast clubs.
- Primary schools are being asked to help ensure that pupils get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day – 30 minutes in school through PE and active play and 30 minutes outside school.
- A new voluntary “healthy schools rating scheme” will be taken into account during school inspections.
- The food industry within the public sector, from catering services at leisure centres to hospitals, should set an example to children and families by promoting healthy eating. Local authorities should adopt Government buying standards for food and catering services, particularly for vending machines in leisure centres.
- School Food Standards will be updated to take into account the latest dietary recommendations.
- The UK’s decision to leave the EU means officials will have “greater flexibility” on labelling on the front of food packages.
- Health officials will work with tech experts to develop new apps to help inform healthier choices.