Jamie Oliver shocked by 'disappointing' childhood obesity plan as campaigners express fury

Posted On: 
18th August 2016

Jamie Oliver has expressed his “shock” at the Government’s long-awaited plan to tackle childhood obesity as it faced a widespread backlash from campaigners.

Jamie Oliver speaking in 2015
Credit: 
PA Images

The TV chef lamented the “disappointing, and frankly, underwhelming strategy” that relies on voluntary action by the food and drink industry and does not include restrictions on junk food marketing and advertising, as mooted by government advisers.

Health campaigners have branded the childhood obesity action plan an “unforgivable missed opportunity”, while the Government argued there was no “silver bullet” to overcoming the issue.

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In a post on his Facebook page, Mr Oliver said ministers’ proposals are “far from robust”.

“It was set to be one of the most important health initiatives of our time, but look at the words used – ‘should, might, we encourage’ - too much of it is voluntary, suggestive; where are the mandatory points[?]” he wrote.

“Where are the actions on the irresponsible advertising targeted at our children, and the restrictions on junk food promotions?”

Mr Oliver, who welcomed former chancellor George Osborne’s March announcement of a tax on sugary drinks, said the levy was the “only clear part of the strategy”.

“This strategy was Britain’s opportunity to lead the way and to implement real, meaningful environmental change, to start removing the crippling financial burden from our NHS and reversing the tide of diet-related disease,” he wrote.

“With this disappointing, and frankly, underwhelming strategy the health of our future generations remains at stake. I sincerely hope the Government's promise to ‘take further action where it is needed’ is true.”

'WATERED-DOWN'

The Department of Health said the plan was for the food and drinks industry to “work towards” a 20% reduction in sugar in products popular with children, including a 5% reduction in year one.

Public Health England will keep track of progress on reductions every six months – but the target is not mandatory and there will be no subsequent action for failing to meet it.

Last year Public Health England called for a ban on sugary products at tills and an end to junk food advertising targeted at children.

In its advice to the Department of Health, the body also said curbs on price promotions on high-sugar products could reduce consumption by 6% - but ministers have overlooked the suggestions.

Sarah Wollaston, Tory chair of the Health Select Committee, said the plan “puts the interests of the advertising industry ahead of the interests of children”.

“The plan also misses the opportunity to improve children’s diets by reining in the saturation marketing and promotion of junk food,” she said.

Ms Wollaston welcomed the sugar levy, which the Treasury is currently consulting on to decide how it will be implemented, but lamented that Theresa May’s government had fallen short in the report.

“Watered-down strategy is at odds with the pledge to tackle the ‘burning injustice’ of health inequality," she added.

‘WORLD LEADING’

The introduction of the sugar tax will be used to fund school sports and health breakfast clubs.

Schools will be asked to give pupils an extra 30 minutes a day of physical activity, with parents and carers encouraged to ensure they receive an additional 30 minutes exercise.

Treasury Minister Jane Ellison said today’s announcement, which she labelled “world leading”, marked the “beginning, not the end of a conversation”.

“The childhood obesity crisis in this country and elsewhere round the world has been decades in the making, and there is no silver bullet - there is no oversight solution,” she told the Today programme.

“This is the beginning of a strong, steady, consistent plan to tackle a problem that, as I say, has been decades in the making.”

She added that the Government was "absolutely" committed to imposing the tax on sugary drinks, expected in Spring 2018.

'MISSED OPPORTUNITY'

Campaigns manager at Action on Sugar Jenny Rosborough told Sky News: "We have seen a really effective salt reduction programme in the UK.

"It's such a shame we can't lead the way in tackling obesity and type two diabetes as well, which we had the perfect opportunity to do with the release of this strategy.

"It is an unforgivable missed opportunity."

Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "I am disappointed that after such a long wait for the childhood obesity strategy, the Government has published a downgraded plan that fails to address key issues such as marketing and promotion of sugar-filled and unhealthy foods to children."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Government’s plans were a “disgrace”.

“Failing to ban highly manipulative and exploitative advertising will be paid for in the life-chances of future generations,” he said.

“Why will the Conservatives not stand up for our children? It is especially dumb as any short-term gain in revenue from selling junk will be lost in future spending by the NHS.”