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The Government has unveiled new plans to hold companies to account over the amount of calories found in foods aimed at young children, as part of its next step in reducing childhood obesity.
A Public Health England (PHE) programme will examine new data about the calorie value of readily available foods such as ready meals, pizzas, burgers, savoury snacks and sandwiches and the results will be published in early 2018.
Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Health said: “Too many of our children are growing up obese, which can lead to serious health complications. We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.
“This can only be done through strong guidance, grounded in evidence, that’s why we have funded a new £5 million dedicated Obesity Research Policy Unit to understand the deeper causes of obesity.”
PHE already has a ‘comprehensive sugar reduction programme’, which aims to reduce sugar in key foods by 20 per cent by 2020.
In addition to this, the Soft Drinks Industry Levy has now become law, coming into effect in April 2018.
According to PHE, leading retailers and manufacturers have announced that they are or already have lowered the amount of sugar in their products as a result of these programmes. They also state that:
• One in three children are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school
• More children in the UK are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, some as young as seven
• Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be obese
However, PHE concludes that targeting sugar levels alone is unlikely to have a big enough impact on childhood obesity.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: “A third of children leave primary school overweight or obese and an excess of calories – not just excess sugar consumption – is the root cause of this.”
As a result of the published information in early 2018, the Government will be setting guidelines and timescales to food companies for calorie reduction of popular foods and will be carefully monitoring progress.
Mr Selbie added: “We will work with the food companies and retailers to tackle this as the next critical step in combating our childhood obesity problem.”