PHE turns childhood obesity focus on cutting calories

Public Health England childhood obesity strategy Duncan Selbie
Duncan Selbie: Real progress has been made
18/08/2017 - 07:00
One year on from the launch of the world leading childhood obesity plan, Public Health England (PHE) has been asked by government to tackle excess calorie consumption by children.

PHE will now consider the evidence on children’s calorie consumption and set the ambition for the calorie reduction programme to remove excess calories from the foods children consume the most.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said that ready meals, pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches were the kinds of foods likely to be included in the programme.

“Over the past year, real progress has been made on reducing the level of sugar in many products,” he said.

“The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has become law and will come into effect in April 2018 and PHE has formulated a comprehensive sugar reduction programme with the aim of a 20% reduction in sugar in key foods by 2020.

“Leading retailers and manufacturers have also announced they are, or already have, lowered the amount of sugar in their products as a result of these programmes.

“Sugar reformulation was a vital first step under the childhood obesity programme, however overconsumption of calories will continue to have a detrimental effect on the health of our children without further action.”

Figures show that adults currently consume on average between 200–300 calories too many each day and children are following suit, with food more readily available than ever before.

The PHE says that reducing calorie consumption from sources other than sugar is critical to reversing the worrying obesity trend, which shows:

* 1 in 3 children are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school

* More children in the UK than previously are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, some as young as seven

* Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be obese

Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Health said: "Too many of our children are growing up obese, which can lead to serious health complications.

“We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.

“This can only be done through strong guidance, grounded in evidence – that’s why we have funded a new £5m Obesity Research Policy Unit to understand the deeper causes of obesity.”

Selbie added: “A third of children leave primary school overweight or obese and an excess of calories – not just excess sugar consumption – is the root cause of this.

“We will work with the food companies and retailers to tackle this as the next critical step in combating our childhood obesity problem.”

PHE plans to publish the evidence in early 2018. Following this it will consult with the food industry, trade bodies and health NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to develop guidance and timelines for the calorie reduction programme.

The Department of Health has set up an Obesity Research Policy Unit at University College London that will look to develop a deeper understanding on the causes of childhood obesity, including marketing to children and families, social inequalities, and the early years of childhood.

Professor Russell Viner, Policy Research Unit Director and Professor of Adolescent Health, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: “Obesity is one of the greatest health concerns of our time and we welcome this considerable and very timely investment from the government.

“We are delighted that the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health will host the new Obesity Policy Research Unit (OPRU). Preventing obesity in early life is key to turning the tide on this modern epidemic.”

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