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Calls for more powers to fight childhood obesity

The government has announced a sugar tax on soft drinks - which could see prices rise. Photo: ITV News

Public health workers and experts in the North East have told us more action is needed to fight childhood obesity.

They say the government's plans for a sugar tax on soft drinks are a step in the right direction - but far from enough, on their own, to tackle the problem in our region.

Watch today's coverage:

This week, our series 'Focus on Obesity' has looked at the extent of the childhood obesity problem, its causes and consequences, and now the proposed solutions.

We want to hear from you. Do you think the sugar tax will make a difference? What do you think needs to be done to reduce the number of overweight and obese children here?

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The sugar tax - will it work?

A week ago, the Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Budget plans for a sugar levy on soft drinks, with producers facing charges depending on how much sugar is in their drinks.

Children are now thought to consume three times their recommended sugar intake, on average. Credit: PA

The move is aimed at getting producers to reduce the sugar content in their drinks - but it's expected that it will be passed on to customers in the form of price rises, with an intended effect on public consumption.

Price rises could include 8p on a 330ml can of coke, or 36p on a 2l bottle of Sprite.

We went out to ask people in Gateshead whether it would put them off:

What more should we be doing?

The government is due to publish a full childhood obesity strategy this year. It is now expected in the autumn, after delays this spring.

Experts in the North East say there still need to be significant extra measures, in addition to the sugar tax announcement.

Professor Ashley Adamson welcomes the sugar tax - but says the government must go further.

Ashley Adamson, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Newcastle University says the sugar tax is "one piece in the jigsaw - it's not going to be the solution" to tackling childhood obesity.

Here is what else she wants to happen:

  • Extending the legislation for marketing to children - a watershed for food and drink advertising - so high-sugar foods are not advertised in family programmes
  • Making retailers' promotions, such as buy-one-get-one-free, less aggressive on high-sugar drinks, and equally available on fruits and vegetables

Gateshead Council has been one of the most proactive local authorities in trying to fight childhood obesity, and last summer introduced rules that ban the opening of new takeaways in areas where there are already many of them.

Four planning applications for new takeaway premises have so far been rejected.

Alice Wiseman, Consultant in Public Health, Gateshead Council says "we have done as much as we can do with the current legislation that we have got. What we'd like to do is work with the government to see if there are other measures that can be introduced."

Alice Wiseman is calling on the government to give councils more powers to tackle obesity locally.

She believes councils should be given more powers over advertising - in terms of marketing on billboards and posters in the local community, for example near to schools - and also the placement of products and offers in shops.

Childhood obesity strategy due

The government says the sugar tax is one of a number of measures already in place to try to tackle childhood obesity - and its upcoming strategy will build on that work.

The Government is already helping to tackle obesity in children — for example by investing in school sport, getting manufacturers to remove calories from soft drinks and food, and introducing labelling so parents can easily see how much fat, sugar and salt is in their families' food.

The obesity strategy will be a key step further forward in helping our children live healthier lives, but there is still work to be done to get it right.

– Department of Health spokesperson

Watch our series 'Focus on Obesity' tonight at 6pm on ITV Tyne Tees

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