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North East MP and GP: childhood obesity 'the biggest issue of our time'

The North East has the highest rate of children overweight or obese when they start primary school - 24.5%. Photo: PA

North East MP and GP Dr Paul Williams has called for firm and wide-ranging action from the government to tackle childhood obesity.

The Labour MP for Stockton South, who is a practising doctor on Teesside and member of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, describes it as "the biggest issue of our time."

The government is expected to publish a new strategy in the coming weeks.

This problem cannot be understated - this is the future health of our nation that's at stake here, and we need really really firm action from the government.

What the Health Select Committee and what I want to see is cross-departmental leadership and a cross-departmental strategy in order to tackle childhood obesity on many fronts.

Tackling the supermarkets where self-regulation just hasn't worked - we need to be able to control price-promotions, we need to be able to stop unhealthy advertising to children - so a ban on advertising beyond the 9pm watershed.

We need to be taking action in schools and action to change our environment, so that the healthy choice is the easiest choice and the cheapest choice.

– Dr Paul Williams MP - Stockon South, Labour
Dr Paul Williams praised the impact of the sugar tax, but said supermarkets' self-regulation has not worked.

The North East has some of the highest rates of obesity among children in the country, and they continue to rise.

According to the National Child Measurement Programme 2016-17:

  • 24.5% of children aged 4 to 5 in the North East are overweight or obese
  • 37.3% of children aged 10 to 11 in the North East are overweight or obese
There have been calls to stop junk food being advertised on television before 9pm. Credit: PA

The Department of Health and Social Care says it already has a "world-leading childhood obesity plan".

It includes the sugar tax, which was announced in 2016 and came into force in April this year, placing a levy on soft drink manufacturers.

We know overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults - which is why our world-leading childhood obesity plan is cutting sugar and calories in food before it hits the shelves and plates, taxing sugary drinks and helping children to exercise more.

We’ve always said that our 2016 plan was the start of the conversation, not the final word on obesity. We are in the process of working up an updated plan, and will be in a position to say more shortly.

– Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson

This week we have several reports looking at this issue, in our series 'Action on Obesity.'

  • What do you think should be in the government's childhood obesity strategy? Email: pamandian@itv.com