Government plans to tackle childhood obesity fall flat

The Government’s new plan to reduce childhood obesity is disappointingly thin.


This August, the Government published their long-awaited plan to tackle childhood obesity, titled Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action. Given that nearly a third of children are overweight or obese, leading to catastrophic health risks in later life, we had high hopes that the government’s  plan would make serious gains in tackling the problem. For over a year, numerous health charities including Public Health England have published strategies that must be included in the plan to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, but the government have ignored them.

The failings of the new plan are in spite of the fact that a leaked draft of the report was publicly slammed for being far too unambitious in July. Not only was the plan not strengthened, it was significantly weakened. The majority of Public Health England’s demands to reduce sugar consumption and to tackle obesity were scrapped, notably including restrictions on marketing and advertising aimed at children, or cut-priced-promotions, for products high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

The plan misses the point with flimsy calls for sugar reduction and more sport in schools

The plan includes a voluntary target for the food industry to reformulate foods so that they contain 20% less sugar, but doesn’t even mention fat. There are  only unspecified ‘levers’ to be implemented as far away as 2020 if companies don’t respond to the ‘challenge’ of reducing sugar in their products. This won’t lead to the reduction in calories needed to make an impact. 

Professor Graham McGregor, Chairman of Blood pressure UK, has called the plan “the Responsibility Deal mark two - where Andrew Lansley made the food industry responsible for policing themselves”, referring to the limp 2011 Government calls for the food industry to put less salt in food to lower the nations’ blood pressure.  

The plan also puts much of the onus on schools to provide more opportunities for sport, showing a lack of understanding of the issue. As important as exercise is for health, it is not a solution in tackling population health and childhood obesity. Instead, we need our new Health Minister to insist on evidence-based measures such as banning the sponsorship of unhealthy food and drink brands at large sporting events such as the recent Rio Olympics. 

The Obesity Plan will not tackle the economic challenges for the NHS 

The Plan concludes “We are confident that our approach will reduce childhood obesity while respecting consumer choice, economic realities and, ultimately, our need to eat”. The stark reality is that this Obesity Plan will not tackle the reality of economic challenges that the NHS is currently facing due to consequences of an unhealthy diet. The government has shied away from demonstrating that public health and childhood obesity are a priority for them and this is an unforgivable missed opportunity to launch what should have been one of the UK’s most important public health programmes.

A sad day for public health

On the release of the new plan, Professor Graham MacGregor said: "Today is a sad day for public health. It is an insulting response to the UK crisis in obesity type 2 diabetes both in children and adults. This will bankrupt the NHS unless something radical is done."

Find out more 

Read the Childhood Obesity plan in full  

See the Obesity Health Alliance’s response to the plan 

Read more about the plan and responses from other organisations in the BBC’s coverage 

See how the media reacted to the plan