Health & Wellbeing

Chewing the fat: Will Theresa May tackle childhood obesity?

Child eating doughnut

It’s safe to say that UK politics has been shaken up over the last month. Britain voted to leave the EU, former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned and Theresa May became the new PM. 

With so much uncertainty, people are wondering whether May will uphold the promises that Cameron pledged. In particular, there are concerns about the long-awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy which has already suffered delays. With every day that passes, a greater number of children are becoming obese and increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a lower quality of life.  There has been increasing pressure on the government to do something about the rising rates of obesity, the question is will the new PM put childhood obesity at the front of her agenda?

All talk, no tax

David Cameron surprised everyone earlier this year when he announced plans to introduce a levy on soft drinks, otherwise known as the sugar tax, which you can read more about here. While the decision raised a few eyebrows, there was huge support in favour of the tax amid the delayed strategy. The new PM brings uncertainty that the tax will even go ahead. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who publically campaigned for the tax and created an online petition which secured more than 150,000 signatures, has already openly asked the new PM to keep the sugar tax and make childhood obesity a priority. However, as the tax is not due to come into effect until 2017, people have been left wondering whether the tax was a distraction to delay the strategy even longer. 

The government also revealed plans to spend the funds raised by the sugar tax on primary schools in England. The chancellor, George Osborne, estimated that the tax will raise around £520 million. This additional funding would go towards improving the PE and sports facilities in primary schools, permitting schools to purchase new facilities, equipment and additional training to upskill teachers with the money.

Changes in advertising regulations

Earlier in May, the Committee of Advertising announced plans to revise the regulations governing the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children (HFSS). The new guidelines would limit the advertisement of HFSS foods to young people online and make it easier for non-HFSS foods to be advertised to children. 

David Cameron was very keen to support the new regulations and believed he could push the changes while he was still in office. At the time it was believed there would be at least a few months before the new PM took his place, before Andrea Leadsom dropped out of the running allowing Theresa May to become PM.  The UK will wait to for the result and what it means for children once the consultation closes on the 22nd July.

With all things considered, the obesity epidemic doesn’t appear to be at the front of Theresa May’s to do list. Writing in the Telegraph earlier this week, Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, urged the PM to take an activist approach. He explained that child obesity is “piling on billions in future NHS costs” and noted that we spend more on obesity than on the police and fire service combined. While the obesity crisis is no easy feat, a number of small interventions will have a significant effect on the health of the country, and indeed the NHS. A combination of reforming food, advertising and promotion regulations, as well as boosting activity and sports participation and better education is what it takes to fight one of the greatest threats of the 21st century. 

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