‘Ticking time bomb’ childhood obesity strategy delayed to summer

The already delayed childhood obesity strategy has been pushed to the summer because there are still “a lot of different issues that need considering”, the government has admitted.

A Department of Health spokesperson told the Guardian that the strategy, originally pencilled for December and then pushed to February or March, was “a very complex issue”.

“There is a lot of work going on to get it right. There are a lot of different issues that need considering and we want to make sure it is right when we put it out,” the spokesperson said.

“David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt have said they want it to be a game-changing moment.”

The news sparked outrage amongst campaigners and health experts who have insisted that any delay to the strategy is a blow to the problem at hand.

Cancer Research UK, for example, warned the issue of childhood obesity would only grow more serious with the delay, which ultimately meant the government “has failed the next generation by stalling on one of its own health priorities”.

The Local Government Association’s community and wellbeing spokesperson, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, called the delay “disappointing” as the problem risks “triggering a ticking time bomb of major illness and disease” later in life.

“This also has the potential to cripple an overburdened NHS, which is currently spending £5bn a year on obesity-related conditions, and social care,” she added.

“Councils have proposed how we tackle this in a number of ways, including clearer labelling of sugar content, calorie counts on menus, sugar reduction in soft drinks, and we hope these are among the measures being considered.”

Introducing a sugar tax, one of the major sticking points of the strategy, could also be under threat amid these delays, media sources have reported.

When pushed by the Daily Mail on the subject, the department spokesperson said: “As far as I'm aware it’s not in there. We as a government are committed to keeping taxes low and not introducing new taxes. I don’t think it will be in there.”

The tax – backed by MPs, the World Health Organisation, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and many other health figures – was the reason why the strategy was delayed in December.

It was not originally supported by the prime minister, particularly given the government’s reluctance to impose new taxes – although he later admitted he did not want to rule it out if it proved itself necessary.

Other health sources told the Guardian that the tax could be shelved and instead replaced with pressuring the food and drinks industry to act on the problem by making products healthier.

Chief execs and special advisers across health bodies such as the Royal Society for Public Health, the UK Health Forum, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have also attacked the government for the major delay on the strategy.

Prof Russel Vinner, officer for health promotion at the RCPCH, for example, said: “With every day that passes, more children are at risk of developing serious conditions associated with obesity.

“So yet another delay in the publication of government’s childhood obesity strategy gives great cause for concern.  We call on government to give a definitive date, and urge them to publish their strategy sooner rather than later; before more children fall foul of this terrible condition.”

While decisions on a national sugar tax have been stalled, NHS England boss Simon Stevens has already indicated he is firm on introducing the levy in the health service by 2020.

Bringing the divisive tax to the NHS would make it the first public body in the UK to impose the levy, with hospitals charging more for drinks and foods high in sugar sold across cafes and vending machines. All proceeds would be used to improve the health of staff.

(Top image c. Gareth Fuller, PA Wire)


Thelma King Thiel   29/02/2016 at 18:24

Of all the efforts to bring obesity under control I do not see that it includes information about liver health and wellness that has been missing in school curricula for decades. How can we expect individuals to modify their food and lifestyle choices when they have a tremendous gap in information from which they can make informed choices? Having been promoting liver health for 45 years as the CEO of two health foundations and receiving positive response to information provided from thousands of attendees, I am baffled that the 'powers that be' have not picked up on this technique of promoting prevention of obesity and other liver related diseases. Education has to begin with our children. It is difficult to reach adults; however, we must build a foundation for healthful living starting in our schools. We all know you can't change what you do not know. Ignorance is the liver's worst enemy. Too many lives are being lost to obesity, fatty liver, atherosclerosis, diabetes, high cholesterol, strokes and cardiovascular disease, drug and alcohol misuse and abuse. ALL LIVER RELATED AND PREVENTABLE. Is anybody listening? Visit my blog at to learn more about liver health, and techniques to motivate individuals to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors so that they may be active participants in their own healthcare and management.

Pete Bolger   02/04/2016 at 09:48

Totally agree with Thelma King Thiel. Consumers have to make their own choices. Stealth removal of sugar and fat only fuels ignorance and promotes denial amongst the masses. Consumers will not act if they feel it's an ingredients issue. People need to wake up and smell the coffee and take personal responsibility for their own health. This is where some stark reality education must prevail. It needs to start in schools and work places for adults. It also needs to be ramped up with disruptive and direct messages. Let's stop dancing around the edges, let's help them to help themselves.

Solway Lass   12/05/2016 at 14:16

And could they please do something to stop secondary schools having vending machines selling sweets/chocolate and fizzy, sugary drinks. I know they do it because it generates income, but is overall very short sighted.

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