Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth is calling on Boris Johnson to implement a “radical obesity plan” to protect the health of children as new figures from NHS England reveal a growing crisis made worse by coronavirus.
The lockdown brought about by the pandemic is exacerbating the existing childhood obesity crisis, according to early research, with children’s health experts warning of a lack of exercise and potential weight gain.
Labour analysis of the latest NHS England figures shows that last year there were 11,000 hospital admissions directly attributable to obesity, including almost 700 under-16s admitted due to obesity – the second highest number on record.
The party has highlighted that 47% of children – less than half – currently meet physical activity guidelines, while just over 7,000 people had bariatric surgery in 2018/19 including two children under 16.
The worry is that the lockdown has led to fewer children doing enough exercise, as many are no longer walking to school, moving between classes and playing sports with friends in school playgrounds.
The five-point plan being proposed by Shadow Health Secretary is as follows:
- Protect children from junk food marketing with restrictions on advertising;
- Create healthier retail environments, promoting healthy food choices in shops and supermarkets;
- Mandatory and clearer calorie and nutrition labelling on all food and drinks;
- Ban the sale of energy drinks to children;
- Reverse cuts to public health funding to roll out weight management programmes to support people to live healthier lives.
Commenting on the demands, Ashworth said: “The childhood obesity crisis means we need decisive action from Boris Johnson, not more dither and delay.
“Ministers promised to tackle our growing obesity crisis but have not implemented a single measure in over two years since the second chapter of the childhood obesity report was published. Ministerial dither is putting children’s health at risk.
“Given the fears over the impact of lockdown on obesity levels, it’s urgent that children’s health is now given priority and the action needed is no longer ducked by ministers.”
Johnson is reported to have changed his mind on tackling obesity after being admitted to hospital with Covid-19. The Prime Minister says he has ditched his previously held “libertarian stance” on the issue.
But Labour has pointed out that the government published the second chapter of its obesity report over two years ago, yet minister have failed to implement any of the recommendations.
Health campaigners such as Action on Sugar and Salt have argued that there is a “golden opportunity to ensure that lessons learned during the pandemic are translated to equitable access to health for all”.
The Times has reported that an anti-obesity drive will be launched soon – banning deals on targeted products, while starting a a fitness awareness campaign and possibly introducing compulsory calorie counts on menus.