Is There A Better Way To Tackle Obesity In The UK?

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Campaigners have criticised the Government for ‘watering down’ its plans to tackle the UK’s obesity problem, despite the introduction of a new ‘sugar tax’ to address the problem.

The Department of Health recently revealed its ‘plan of action’ to tackle childhood obesity, the first major policy announcement of the Theresa May premiership.

The plan aims to address the fact that about a fifth of children are obese by the time they leave primary school, rising to one in three by the end of secondary school.

Yet many people argue that it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

What is the Government doing about obesity?

The most eye-catching measure in the Government’s plan is a ‘sugar tax’. This is something that many campaigners have called for and will see a levy added to fizzy drinks from 2018. The levy is not only designed to be a deterrence but is also a way of making money to fund school sports and breakfast clubs.

There’s also an emphasis on primary schools, with ministers asking them to get their pupils to exercise for 60 minutes a day – half through PE lessons and half outside of school. The quality of a school’s work in this area will be taken into account by inspectors.

On top of that the Government wants the industry to ‘reformulate’ the products that are popular with children, with the aim to cut the sugar and fat levels.

The ambition is to cut a fifth of the sugar in cereals, yoghurts, sweets, breads and desserts in five years, starting with a five per cent cut in the first year. Yet this scheme will be voluntary, something which has drawn the ire of campaigners.

It’s not just the campaigners either. Former GP and current chair of the Commons Health Committee feels the voluntary nature of the ‘reformulation’ scheme and the failure to ban junk food advertising before the watershed make this a ‘plan for inaction’.

What else could be done?
So, is there a better way than the Government’s course of action?

Critics certainly believe that food manufacturers should be forced to reduce their sugar levels. The Royal College of Physicians believes there should be independently set figures for the industry to meet. It also thinks that unhealthy food items should not be allowed to advertise before 9pm.

Yet it’s important to remember that not everyone agrees with this position. The sugar tax, for example, is a controversial measure given that it does not necessarily cover the most sugary drinks available – or go beyond the realm of fizzy drinks. There are also those who’d prefer to see positive policies promoted in place of the Government dictating terms – an argument that stands for the measures campaigners feel were ‘missed out’ in the announcement.

Indeed, while the focus has been on childhood obesity, many argue that we shouldn’t lose sight of the role that older members of society play in this. Children of obese parents are up to five time more likely to be overweight or obese themselves by the time they are in their 40s, making adults crucial role models to be targeted in the quest to improve the current situation.

That means they themselves need to be encouraged into sports clubs and gyms to become more active and to learn, as the articles from Fysiqal demonstrate, the virtues of a healthy balanced diet to fuel that lifestyle. It also means adults themselves taking responsibility for everything from their shopping to the way they spend their leisure time to set the tone for the next generation.

The Government alone cannot win the battle, neither can we pile the responsibility all onto the shoulders of our already-busy primary schools or rely on the industry to change out of the goodness of its heart. Everyone – Government, industry, schools, parents, children – must face up to the magnitude of the problem and do their own bit.

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