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Theresa May Should Be Ashamed Of The Government's Anti-Obesity Strategy

19/08/2016 15:40 | Updated 20 August 2016
Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

The Government has announced its childhood anti-obesity strategy in the quietest possible period in August, and not through a ministerial announcement but slipped out in a departmental paper.

You might think that Theresa May's Government was hoping no one would notice at all.

And that's not surprising, for this is something her new Government should be ashamed of.
It has bowed to the lobbying of multinational junk food giants and the supermarkets, and failed to take any new substantive steps to address the health crisis that sees 33% of children leaving primary school overweight or obese.

But thanks to the efforts of campaigners like Jamie Oliver and expert bodies like the Royal Society for Public Health, the Government has been held to task - even though MPs are not being given the chance to offer an immediate challenge.

The lack of action to ban supermarket promotions of junk food with buy one get one free deals and multipacks, as well as the failure to act on advertising junk aimed specifically at children during popular family television programmes and on the internet, are just two of the areas in which action had been expected, but wasn't delivered. Limiting fast food outlets near schools and colleges is a further area crying out for action.

The rise in obesity, particularly among the young, isn't because we've undergone sudden genetic changes.

It isn't because parents have suddenly given up worrying about the nature of the food their children eat.

There are social changes no doubt contributing to it. The danger from fast-moving vehicles on our roads that have left "playing out in the street" almost unknown, except when parents and communities go to great lengths to make it possible, has combined with the attractive explosion of electronic games and distractions.

Holiday schemes and teaching outdoors have been lost to the dreadful jaws of Tory austerity, while the great sell-off of school playing fields that started under Labour continued under the Coalition.

All of these and more are public health issues on which the Government should, and could, be taking action. But they would not have an immediate impact in the same way as addressing how children are bombarded with advertising and promotions of unhealthy foods.

Children are having enticements to consume empty calories thrown at them from every side - even in texts on their mobile phones - and it is making it extraordinarily hard for parents to hold back the tide.
They needed help that the Government has failed to provide.

Lots of brilliant community efforts, like the Gatis Gardeners in Wolverhampton who I visited this week, are doing their best to promote healthy eating, food growing and cooking, but they do this on budgets that are miniscule.

And they are working against our obesogenic environment, created by car-dominated communities and the efforts of food giants chasing profits with foods highly attractive to our palates but harmful to our health.

Overweight and obese children suffer immediate health problems which are likely to continue into adulthood.

That means Theresa May's Government's inaction will have not only great human costs, but also put even further burdens on the NHS.

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