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29.02.16

‘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 LGA’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.”

(Top image c. Gareth Fuller, PA Wire)

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