Today’s chronic level of obesity cannot be overstated. This issue is serious. Children today may well be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents.
The UK is now the most obese country in Western Europe. Obesity is the second most preventable cause of cancer after smoking, and obese adults are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than adults of a healthy weight. Unless action is taken we are sitting on an obesity time bomb that will only increase pressure on services. Indeed, it is estimated that, if current levels continue, by the year 2030 74% of men and 64% of women will be obese. How will the NHS of the future cope with the rise in disease when it is currently at breaking point?
None of this should be news to the Government. Analysis from the LGA this week concluded one in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese. That is just the latest warning. So, what is the solution? As of 6 April 2018 the Soft Drinks Industry Levy finally came into force. This is something the Liberal Democrats had been calling for since 2013. It has already resulted in over 50% of manufacturers reducing the sugar content of drinks. But many argue that it does not go far enough.
No single measure can provide the silver bullet on this incredibly complex issue. The Government must introduce a comprehensive strategy to address childhood obesity, combining efforts to encourage exercise as well as heathier diets.
Liberal Democrats believe there should be an end to junk food marketing on TV before 9pm and mandatory measures to stop junk food marketing online. We must end ‘buy one get one free’ and other multi-buy junk food offers and stop the use of licensed cartoon characters and celebrities to promote junk food to children. If advertisers, supermarkets and retail outlets will not admit the scale of the problem and self-regulate, then it is up to policy makers to ensure children are protected. I was delighted to see the Health Committee adopt these recommendations in their report on obesity this week.
But, Liberal Democrats would go further. We also want mandatory traffic lighting on the front of packets to give parents quick information of the content of food. Most parents and grandparents know the difficulty of having to repeatedly tell our children that they cannot have some form of junk food - to support parents, healthy food should be cheaper and junk food, healthier.
Education is also key. That is why we want measures to help all schools promote health, to give children the tools early in their lives to be healthy and combat obesity.
After years of work, we have clear responses to the risks associated with smoking. Cigarettes are taxed, the advertisement of cigarettes severely limited, and children are educated in school about how dangerous smoking is. We must be much quicker in dealing with the dangers of obesity.
When Theresa May published a much-watered down obesity strategy early in her time as Prime Minister, she disappointed campaigners who had been hoping the Government would finally take decisive action on this public health crisis. She now has a chance to right that wrong.
Baroness Jolly is a Lib Dem peer in the House of Lords