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Experts slam Government's 'weak' childhood obesity plan

One in three UK children are overweight when they leave primary school Credit: PA

Leading doctors have labelled the Government's long-awaited plan to tackle childhood obesity as "weak" and "incredibly disappointing".

On Thursday, the Government will publish its strategy to fight the one-in-three obesity ratio in children across the UK - the highest level across Western Europe.

But health experts from numerous fields have criticised the Childhood Obesity Plan - hampered by delays and u-turns- citing the Government's failure to introduce new measures to help tackle the problem.

  • Government to use Team GB success to launch long-delayed obesity strategy

Criticising the plan, the British Medical Association warned that children are being bombarded with marketing for foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

But the Government has failed to introduce necessary curbs on junk food advertising, the BMA claims.

Concerns have also been raised that the plan only goes as far as to urge food manufacturers to reduce sugar on a voluntary basis.

Main points of Government strategy

  • 20% sugar reduction in children's cereals, yoghurts, sweets, breads and desserts over the next five years
  • Targets for sugar content per 100g of product and calorie caps for specific single-serving products
  • Reports on whether the industry is reducing sugar content through the voluntary scheme and if it is deemed that insufficient progress has been made
  • Government sugar tax on soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Red Bull will come into force from 2018 - money raised will be put towards sports in schools and school breakfast clubs.
  • Primary schools to be asked to help ensure pupils get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day - 30 minutes in school through PE and active play and 30 minutes outside school.
The plan coincides with Team GB's Olympics success Credit: PA

Commenting on the publication, Professor Parveen Kumar, chairwoman of the BMA's board of science, accused the Government of "rowing back on its promises" - resulting in a "weak" rather than obese plan to tackle childhood obesity.

Although the Government proposes targets for food companies to reduce the level of sugar in their products, the fact that these are voluntary and not backed up by regulation, renders them pointless.

Targets are also needed to reduce levels of saturated fat and salt in products - these must be backed up by regulation.

Poor diet has become a feature of our children's lives, with junk food more readily available, and food manufacturers bombarding children with their marketing every day for food and drinks that are extremely bad for their health.

– Professor Parveen Kumar

Professor Kumar added: "It is incredibly disappointing that the Government appears to have failed to include plans for tighter controls on marketing and promotion".

She said that while the introduction of a sugar tax was "encouraging", it is "not enough on its own" to solve the problem.

  • 'It will take more than half measures'
Obesity poses a 'ticking time bomb' to the NHS Credit: PA

Mick Armstrong, chairman of the British Dental Association, accused the Government of taking "half measures".

A sugar levy is one thing, but watering down action on junk food advertising and two for one deals sends entirely the wrong signal to business, parents and health professionals.

We require a real strategy from government that is willing to address the huge, costly and preventable health inequalities Britain now faces.

This isn't rocket science, but we need ministers to take a lead.

– Mick Armstrong, BDA chairman

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Diane Abbott, described the plan as "little more than a lick and a promise".

"After pushing back the announcement of this strategy three times, the Government's response is woeful, and fails to deliver meaningful action", the Labour MP said.

Meanwhile, the plan was also subject to negative feedback from the Royal College of Physicians, the Local Government Association and the British Soft Drinks Association.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said the plan represented a "missed opportunity" in the fight against childhood obesity.

But Public Health England said the plan was the "first step on the long road to tackling childhood obesity".

A clear-cut target to reformulate junk food and drink - as has successfully been done with added salt over the last decade - means there will be no hiding place if sufficient progress isn't being made, as monitored publicly every six months.

Under those circumstances the need for further, broader action would be unarguable.

– NHS England spokeswoman