England’s Chief Medical Officer is considering recommending a tax on all unhealthy foods in a bid to curb the spiralling childhood obesity crisis.
Dame Sally Davies, who once who once jokingly called herself ‘chief nanny’, wants parents to be encouraged to buy more fruit and vegetables.
She is conducting an urgent review of measures needed to meet the Government’s target to halve the levels of fat youngsters by 2030.
Some 29 per cent of children aged two to 15 are now overweight or obese in England, with 16 per cent of them being obese.
Dame Sally told BBC News: ‘I want parents to be incentivised to buy healthy food. We need to make sure that fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap.
England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said reducing childhood obesity is a ‘formidable challenge’. She is expected to publish her review by September
‘Maybe we have to subsidise them by charging more, by taxing unhealthy food. Parents are then nudged to buy the healthy version because it’s cheaper.’
She added: ‘I want the basket of food parents buy not to cost any more.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday said ‘we should not rest on our laurels’ and called for her expert advice to help improve the plans.
‘We have already gone further than any other country to reduce childhood obesity,’ he said. ‘Our reformulation programmes are world-leading.
‘We are consulting on a number of new laws on advertising and promotions to make the environment healthier for our children.
‘I have no doubt that these policies will be effective. What I do not underestimate is the scale of the problem we face and we should not rest on our laurels.’
Matt Hancock said ‘we should not rest on our laurels’ as the Government tries to put measures in place to reduce the number of obese children by half by 2030
HOW FAT ARE BRITISH CHILDREN?
English children are fatter than ever – official data revealed in October that one in every 25 10 to 11-year-olds are severely obese, the fattest possible category.
And out of around 556,000 children of primary school-leaving age in the UK, 170,000 are overweight to some degree, figures showed in May last year.
More than one in five 11-year-olds are obese – equivalent to around 111,000 children – and being so fat means they are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer or have a stroke.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health say children should be weighed every year at school because ‘danger is on the horizon’ and the UK is lagging behind the rest of the EU in tackling obesity.
Experts have also warned children gain weight ‘at a drastic rate’ when they’re at school.
Sugar in food is known to be contributing to the swelling waistlines of children, with huge amounts of popular foods crammed full of sugar.
A sugar tax has reduced the effects of some soft drinks, but breakfast cereals can still contain more than 70 per cent of an entire day’s sugar in a single bowl.
Even a single can of Coca Cola (35g of sugar) or one Mars bar (33g) contain more than the maximum amount of sugar a child should have over a whole day.
‘Unless we tackle this obesity crisis, today’s obese children will become tomorrow’s obese adults whose years of healthy life will be shortened by a whole host of health problems,’ Izzi Seccombe, of the Local Government Association, said in May.
‘By 2030, if we want to see a real improvement to our children’s health we are going to have to use every tool in our arsenal,’ Mr Hancock added.
‘So today I have asked the Chief Medical Officer to report back on what else we can take forward.’
The Government’s childhood obesity action plan was first published in 2016 and set out measures which could help slim the nation’s children.
One of its flagship measures, the sugar tax on soft drinks, has already begun and raised £154million in its first six months.
Other initiatives include encouraging food and drink companies to reduce their sugar content by 20 per cent.
Food for sale in government-run buildings including leisure centres will be made healthier, and primary schools will make sure children get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day between lessons.
And low income families will continue to get Healthy Start vouchers for milk and fruit and vegetables, under the Government plans.
The Government is also considering banning energy drink sales to children and stopping junk food being advertised before 9pm.
Mr Hancock appeared determined to do more and will hope Dame Sally can recommend ways of improving the strategy and making it more likely to work.
Dame Sally said last year that voluntary agreements with the food industry had failed to sufficiently reduce sugar and salt consumption.
And, speaking in December, she also called for junk food to be taxed and vegetables subsidised to tackle the childhood obesity problem.
But the food industry has warned there is no evidence that additional food taxes can change consumer behaviours over the long-term.
‘The scale of the challenge we face on childhood obesity is formidable,’ Dame Sally said yesterday.
‘There is no silver bullet to a problem decades in the making and we need to think outside the box.
‘There are policies we know are effective, many of which this country is already putting into action. Now we must be bold and brave enough to keep going.
‘I want the UK to be the healthiest country in the world – supporting all of our children to have the best possible start in life.’
Childhood obesity has risen since the 1990s, with 25 per cent of children between two and 15 being overweight or obese in 1995, the lowest in 14 years.
While the proportion of children who were fat hit its peak in 2004 when it was higher than a third at 34 per cent.
The figure was continuously higher than 30 per cent from 2001 to 2011 and again in 2014.
Children who are obese are more likely to be fat adults and thus be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
The Chief Medical Officer’s report is expected in September.