After many years of faux campaigning and wringing of hands, the Governments has at long last unveiled its response to what a senior Government Minister described in February as a National Emergency. Yet the only real policy within the Child Obesity Plan, one that already had its hand tied behind its back has already come under attack from an influential commentator within the Party. In effect this is like sending one man with a bucket of water to extinguish fires caused by riots, only for someone to put a hole in the bucket. However rather than the rioters themselves being castigated for their vandalism, they are being invited to the Party Conference in Birmingham, and some will no doubt appear in the House of Lords very soon! The Government Minister concerned is not someone who backs down during a fight, in fact the reverse is the case, so one can only presume that he, like the bucket has been got at and either was lying in February, or else has been told to lay off those lovely big businesses who are helping to finance the Tory Party. Speaking earlier this year on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning programme Jeremy Hunt said:
“We have got to do something about this. I’ve got a one-year-old daughter, and by the time she reaches adulthood a third of the population will be clinically obese. One in 10 will have type 2 diabetes. It is a national emergency.” He said he agreed with Jamie Oliver that action was needed and that he wanted “a gamechanging moment, a robust strategy.” and went on: “The issue here is: do what it takes to make sure that children consume less sugar. Because we have got this terrible problem: we are the most obese nation in the EU.” This statement came a year after he spoke to the annual Kings Fund Conference and said: “I think it is a great scandal that one in five children leave primary school clinically obese and it is something that we cannot say that we accept. We absolutely need to do something about that.”
Sadly there is some evidence that Hunt himself has contributed to putting the hole in the bucket as he denied MPs and Parliament access to the reports on obesity which the Department of Health had commissioned using public money. However the person who has stood up and openly called for the hole to be created is a chap called Chris Rowell who waited till the plan had been published before arguing in one of the web based magazines ‘Conservative Way Forward’ that the sugar tax element was not needed and should be ignored. Yet this is despite the fact that this so called sugar tax is one that the industry gets to set for its self. Food producers will only have to pay the ‘tax’ if they fail to voluntarily reduce the amount of sugar in their products within two years.
The 10 page obesity plan which is analysed here includes other measures such as a re-commitment to a scheme which last year provided about £60m worth of vouchers for fruit, vegetables and milk to families on low incomes across England in 2015/16. Schools will be asked to provide an extra 30 minutes a day of physical activity and to further focus on healthy food within any lunch provision, and parents and carers will be encouraged to get their children moving for a further 30 minutes each day. The big gap is that the Government has chosen not to prevent the advertisement of unhealthy food. Thankfully not all Conservatives share the views of Chris Rowell. Sarah Wollaston MP wrote on twitter “Big interests have trumped those of children in dumping advertising & promotion from the childhood obesity strategy” and Dan Poulter, a health Minister under the coalition “This is certainly not the ‘gamechanging, plan for reducing childhood obesity that it had been built up to be. This policy has over-promised, but I fear that the reality will be under-delivery.”
This is a very disappointing response from Government on a subject that has been on the table for at least 5 years. When the sugar cats are wining and dining Tory grandees in Birmingham in a few weeks time, some of the MPs with long memories might cast their minds back to comments made by the last Prime Minister 5 years ago in Manchester “But frankly, do we have a problem with the growing level of obesity? Yes. Do we have a kind of warning in terms of – look at America, how bad things have got there – what happens if we don’t do anything? Yes, that should be a wake-up call. I am worried about the costs to the health service, [and] the fact that some people are going to have shorter lives than their parents.” He warned that obesity was on the verge of overtaking smoking and drinking as the biggest health challenge facing Britain. This Obesity plan is not adequate as a response to such an issue!