The chair of the health select committee says the government must get its new strategy rightby Sarah Wollaston / June 7, 2018 / Leave a comment
When George Osborne announced the sugary drinks levy in 2016, contrary to the predictions of his critics, it was widely welcomed. Manufacturers were given time to prepare and, by the point it came into force in April this year, it had already driven significant reductions in the sugar levels of fizzy drinks.
Far from being a regressive tax, the money collected was earmarked for schools and sports (it has been so successful in lowering sugar that less has been collected than originally anticipated). Where retailers do decide to pass on a price differential at the point of sale that will be a further encouragement for people to choose lower or no sugar alternatives.
Accusations of “nanny statism” either ignore or minimise one of the most important public health issues of our time. Around one in five children are leaving primary school not just overweight but obese—and in every year since formal recording began, the gap between the richest and the poorest communities has widened. This is not only a problem with far reaching personal consequences for the children affected, but an unacceptable cause of health inequality and of avoidable costs for the NHS. By age 11, children from the poorest communities are three times as likely to be obese as those from the wealthiest.
The main criticism of the government’s first strategy to tackle childhood obesity, published in 2016, was that it did not go far enough. A red pen had been taken to the original draft, removing many important opportunities to turn this around. Health inequality was one of the “burning injustices” identified by the prime minister on the steps of Downing Street. But with a refreshed version of that plan expected soon there is an opportunity for government to look again and get this right in the updated plan. The health and social care select committee, which I chair, argues in its new report that it can be done. This is shown by the approach taken in Amsterdam, where they have focused on using a whole community and schools approach to healthy lifestyles alongside clear and effective leadership.
We need the same level of attention here in order to narrow the inequality gap but, given the catastrophic and rising costs of obesity, the government also needs to make sure that local government has all the levers it needs to put those changes into effect. This should include making health an objective in the planning and…