Decisive action needed on childhood obesity rates, says Labour


Childhood obesity needs to be tackled in a “decisive” way by the Government, Labour has said.

The party called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “stop dithering” on the health issue.

Labour said that the UK went into the coronavirus pandemic facing an “obesity crisis”.

And it said research suggested that the Covid-19 lockdown had worsened childhood obesity.

Labour called for restrictions on “junk food advertising” and the promotion of more healthy food choices in shops, and “mandatory and clearer calorie and nutrition labelling” on all food and drinks.

It also wants to ban the sale of energy drinks to children.

The party said analysis of NHS England’s figures for 2018/19 showed there were more than 11,000 hospital admissions for people of all ages directly attributable to obesity, a 4% rise on the previous year.

It said that nearly 700 children under 16 were admitted to hospital because of obesity, the second highest number on record.

In total, hospital admissions where obesity was a factor increased by 23% to 876,000 hospital over the previous year, Labour said.

People from deprived areas are more likely to be admitted to hospital because of obesity, according to the party.

Less than half of children – 47% – are meeting current physical activity guidelines, according to Labour.

The party said ministers had failed to implement recommendations from the Government’s second chapter of its obesity report published two years ago.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The childhood obesity crisis means we need decisive action from Boris Johnson, not more dither and delay.

“Ministers promised to tackle our growing obesity crisis but have not implemented a single measure in over two years since the second chapter of the childhood obesity report was published.

“Ministerial dither is putting children’s health at risk.

“Given the fears over the impact of lockdown on obesity levels, it’s urgent that children’s health is now given priority and the action needed is no longer ducked by ministers.”

Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford said: “Labour’s call for further restrictions on advertising to children fails to recognise that existing rules on the advertising of high fat, salt, sugar (HFSS) food and drink are already among the strictest in the world and restrict the advertising of these products in and around TV programmes commissioned for, or likely to appeal to children.

“Rules for all other media, including online, restrict HFSS ads where under-16s make up more than 25% of the audience.

“Over the past decade children’s exposure to HFSS advertising has reduced by about 70%, yet obesity levels have continued to rise.

Energy drinks
Energy drinks

“The advertising industry is supportive of targeted, practical efforts to reduce obesity among children, like increasing physical activity, measures that have been shown to be far more impactful in the fight against childhood obesity than ineffective blanket bans.”

A Government spokesman said: “We are determined to tackle the problem of obesity across all ages and will be announcing new measures shortly to help reverse obesity rates and help everyone live healthier lives.

“We have already made huge progress towards our goal of halving childhood obesity by 2030 – cutting sugar from half of drinks on sale, funding exercise programmes in schools and working with councils to tackle child obesity locally through ground-breaking schemes.”