The government’s plan to prevent child obesity is “severely limited”, a team of experts has claimed in an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
They argued that the government has “missed an opportunity” to take global leadership of child health following the publication of its report ‘Childhood Obesity: a Plan for Action’ in 2016.
Professor Mark Hanson from the British Heart Foundation, Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Dr Edward Mullins, a trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology, criticised a number of key failings within the government’s report.
They said the report “fails to recognise” that “multiple biological, behavioural, environmental, and commercial factors, some of which operate before conception and birth” lead to children being overweight or obese.
Hanson, Modi and Mullins said the report does not “recognise that the harm extends across generations,” and “this failure represents a major lost opportunity for effective prevention.”
Discussing ways the report could have been strengthened, they said it should have included evidence-based interventions, such as a sugar tax on sweetened beverages, nutrient profiles to identify healthy and unhealthy foods, clearer food labelling, and promoting physical activity in schools.
Other recommendations absent from the report, they said, include stronger controls on advertising, mandatory food reformulation, and nutrition education.
To achieve these recommendations, they suggested the formation of a new global alliance against child obesity led by an international alliance of healthcare organisations.
“The UK government would work with the alliance to build on their plan for action and develop it into a strategy for childhood and future societal health,” they wrote.
Hanson, Modi and Mullins recommended the new alliance should focus on a life course approach, in which the initial stage is an “important opportunity for engaging parents to prevent obesity and promote health.”
Furthermore, the experts said health and education professionals needed to be effectively trained in how to engage parents, children, and young people with the issue of being overweight and obesity.
They stressed that dialogue needs to be encouraged between industry, policy makers, scientists, educators, professional bodies, children and young people.
Commenting on the criticism of the report, Kim Roberts, CEO of Henry, a charity supporting healthy habits in young kids, told The Huffington Post UK: “The ‘Childhood Obesity Plan’ was a real missed opportunity.
“The authors writing in the BMJ are also right to emphasise the importance of a healthy pregnancy and healthy lifestyle in the early years as the best way to prevent obesity. It is much easier to support families to live a healthy lifestyle right from the start than it is to get them to break unhealthy lifestyle habits later on.
“And once obesity is established in children the evidence shows it tracks into adulthood for four out of five children.”
Caroline Moye, head of World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This emphasises just how many vital measures were omitted from the childhood obesity plan. Theresa May and her government missed a key opportunity to really help reduce the burden obesity is having on our children’s health.
“Being overweight or obese increases the risk of a number of different conditions including 11 common cancers.
“It is essential that the government prioritises tackling childhood obesity through a number of different measures as no single action will solve the obesity epidemic”.
Tam Fry, a spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum and expert advisory team member for Action on Sugar told HuffPost UK: “The doctors are absolutely right to castigate the government for its abysmal plan.
“What is even worse is that, a full five months after publication, a lot of the detail of its proposals is still lacking and much of the proposed measures are still to get off the drawing board. All that makes it certain that Westminster’s target, for the UK to be the first major nation reversing the rising tide of obesity by 2020, an impossibility.”