Hoping for a comprehensive plan to lower obesity rates, medical experts shake their heads at the United Kingdom’s proposed strategy.
In the past, if you were from a low-income household, you ran the risk of starving.
Now you’d be more likely to eat yourself to an earlier death.
That’s the case in many industrialized nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, where obesity hits children from low-income households harder than any other group.
Nearly a third of British children are either overweight or obese, so U.K. officials hope to rein in the health problems associated with being overweight, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and a shortened lifespan.
These health problems in 2014-15 cost the U.K. government 5.1 billion pounds ($6.7 billion).
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One of the culprits they’re targeting, much like other countries around the world, is the excessive amounts of sugar in the food supply.
Earlier this week, the United Kingdom unveiled its new plan to combat these issues, including a sin tax on soft drinks. In 2015, doctors with the British Medical Association (BMA) called for a 20 percent tax on sodas and sugary beverages.
Other provisions include reducing added sugars in foods by 20 percent, investing in food research to make healthier products, updating the nutrient profile rating system for foods, and increasing physical activity for children in schools.
“We are confident that our approach will reduce childhood obesity while respecting consumer choice, economic realities, and, ultimately, our need to eat,” the plan states. “Although we are clear in our goals and firm in the action we will take, the launch of this plan represents the start of a conversation, rather than the final word.”
When it was released, health experts and food industry leaders had plenty to say.
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Many health officials were critical of the plan, namely how it was whittled down from 50 pages to only 10.
Parts that were removed included further restrictions on advertising junk food to children and things like two-for-one marketing deals.
Dr. Sarah Wollaston, health select committee chair, and Conservative member of Parliament, said the document shows “the triumph of industry lobbyists.”
“In downgrading the obesity ‘plan’ many important opportunities have been lost to improve children’s diets and tackle health inequality,” she tweeted. “Big interests have trumped those of children in dumping advertising and promotion from the childhood obesity strategy.”
Shirley Cramer, executive chief of the Royal Society for Public Health, told the BMA she was also critical of the lack of regulation on marketing and promoting sugar-filled foods to kids. She pointed out it was identified as a “critical area for action” addressed in a report by Public Health England last year.
“It is therefore extremely disappointing that these evidence-based recommendations have been dismissed,” she said. “However, it does feel like several pages of the plan are missing; there is a glaring omission around any measures to tackle the aggressive marketing of junk food — on TV, online, and through sponsorship and price promotions.”
Overall, as BBC health editor Hugh Pym says, health experts are nearly in universal agreement that the guidelines fall short. Still, some say that increasing physical activity in schools, is “a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.”
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Those in the sugary beverage industry also took exception to the sanctions, arguing they will unnecessarily hurt the country’s already damaged economy.
The tax is on sugary beverage producers and importers, not on consumers, the report states. The goal is to encourage them to reduce the sugar content in their products.
“We have given producers and importers two years to lower the sugar in their drinks so that they won’t face the levy if they take action,” the report states.
Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, says he hopes government officials will “reconsider a measure that is both unnecessary and harmful to the economy.”
“Given the economic uncertainty our country now faces we’re disappointed the government wishes to proceed with a measure which analysis suggests will cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity,” he said in a statement.
The specific details of the tax are planned to be hashed out over the summer and incorporated into the country’s 2017 finance bill.