Please put child health before party politics, Boris
Recent reports that Boris Johnson is considering ditching critical child health policies as part of a “red meat strategy” to shore up support from Conservative backbench MPs really does feel like Groundhog Day.
I will never understand why our leaders would think it’s ok to play party politics with child health.
The timing could not be worse. Last year saw by far the biggest increases in child obesity since records began. Children from low-income families are twice as likely to have obesity, and as the cost of living crisis unfolds, so many more families will struggle to feed themselves and their kids well.
Those who really know their stuff - scientists, academics, doctors, health charities like Cancer Research UK, and health experts like Chris Whitty - agree that we need a set of evidence-based policies to fix the food system and improve child health. The policies that work are about making nutritious food affordable, accessible and appealing. Right now the food that ticks those boxes tends to be unhealthy. We need to change the food environment that surrounds our kids. Obesity is a normal response to an abnormal environment.
Children’s health and access to nutritious food should be a non-negotiable priority
Kids are bombarded by adverts and promotions for junk food every single day. What we need to do is turn down the noise a bit and put healthier food in the spotlight by doing things like restricting junk food advertising on TV and online, shifting food promotions in a healthier direction, and putting clear honest nutritional labels on all food so our kids (and their parents) know what they’re eating.
We have clear evidence that these policies work. Today, the globally renowned London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has published research showing restrictions on junk food advertising on London’s tubes and buses have led to Londoners consuming less calories: a whopping 385 calorie decrease in energy per person from less healthy purchases in their weekly shopping. The amazing thing is that the policy hasn’t led to a reduction in advertising revenue for Transport for London. Businesses were incredibly quick to adapt and simply switched to advertising their healthier products. So it’s a win for both health and business.
These policies are also massively popular with parents whose biggest priority is their children’s health and who would love their lives to be made that little bit easier by reducing pester power. Support for junk food advertising restrictions on TV and online is currently at 74 per cent according to a recent ComRes poll.
When Boris Johnson came into office, he initially wasn’t too keen on these policies. His team wanted to do things differently. But then he got Covid and nearly died, which he himself attributed to obesity. And so, he began to take the issue very seriously. He studied the evidence and in July 2020 published a very strong obesity strategy.
And yet, these are the very same policies he may be about to abandon.
Children’s health and access to nutritious food should be a non-negotiable priority. It should be the first thing every Prime Minister and minister thinks about. It should be above party politics. It’s a human right. And a child’s right.
Boris Johnson prides himself on delivering. My question to him is whether he will put child health above his perceived narrow short-term political interest? Will he step up, follow the science and actually deliver?
Jamie Oliver is a chef and campaigner.
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