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Public health cuts will have ‘major impact’ on councils tackling child obesity

Council leaders have warned that cuts to public health budgets will have a “major impact” on the many prevention and early intervention services trying to combat child obesity. 

Responding to a Health Select Committee report on obesity, which has called for a sugary drinks tax and more regulation, plus more powers for councils on this issue, the LGA’s Cllr Izzi Seccombe said: “The key to tackling the obesity crisis, which is costing the NHS over £5bn every year, is investing in prevention. 

“This saves money for other parts of the public sector by reducing demand for hospital, health and social care services, and improves the public's health.” 

She added that councils are running fantastic schemes, which are helping to keep children stay healthy, but they “could do so much more with the right resources”. 

Cllr Seccombe highlighted that the difficult cuts announced by the government in last week’s Spending Review – an annual real-term cut of 3.9% in councils' public health budgets over the next five years – on top of a £200m in-year cut already announced this year, will “have a major impact on the many prevention and early intervention services carried out by councils to combat child obesity”. 

The Health Select Committee’s report has made several recommendations to tackle child obesity, including strong controls on price promotions of junk food and drink, taking tougher control on the marketing of these products and introducing a “sugary drinks tax”. 

The influential group of MPs said they support Public Health England’s recommendation for a tax on full sugar soft drinks, and recommend that it be introduced at a rate of 20% to maximise its impact on purchasing and help to change behaviour. 

Additionally, they call for greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity. The Committee said that a simple way to boost local authorities’ effectiveness in this area would be change planning legislation to simplify the processes for limiting the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in local areas, which they heard can be “time-consuming and difficult”. They have recommended that this change should be made. In particular, health should be included as a material planning consideration. 

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the health committee, said that one third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, and the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese than the least deprived. 

“This has serious consequences for both their current and future health and wellbeing and we cannot continue to fail these children, she said. “We therefore urge the Prime Minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through bold and wide ranging measures within his childhood obesity strategy. 

“A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible. We believe that a sugary drinks tax should be included in these measures with all proceeds clearly directed to improving our children’s health.”

A new alliance of medical organisations fighting obesity has also outlined 10 priorities for government, retailers and health professionals. 

To view the full statement with the 10 priorities for action, click here.


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