MPs call for tougher measures to combat childhood obesity

The Commons health committee is calling for strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drinks. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock
The Commons health committee is calling for strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drinks. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock
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MPs have called for tough new measures to tackle childhood obesity, including controlling the “deep discounting” by supermarkets of unhealthy foods.

In a new report, the Commons health committee said the government’s childhood obesity strategy published last August does not go far enough.

MPs have previously made a series of recommendations to tackle obesity, but most of these were ignored or rejected by the government, the committee said.

One recommendation was for strong controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drinks but there was “no mention of price promotions” in the government’s strategy, the new report said.

Other recommendations included tougher controls on the marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink, but the strategy made “no mention of marketing and advertising”.

Further proposals were also not acted upon, MPs said, including the labelling of products to show their sugar content in teaspoons.

One measure that was adopted – to lower the amount of sugar in food and drink targeted at children – is voluntary and the government has not set out what “penalties or sanctions” will happen if food manufacturers do not do this, MPs said.

They are now calling on the government to take stronger action, including reducing “the impact of deep discounting and price promotions on the sales of unhealthy food and drink”.

They said industry representatives themselves have called for a level playing field in this area through regulation.

“Retailers who act responsibly on discounting and promotions should not be put at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not,” they said.

They also called for measures to “reduce and rebalance the number and type of promotions in all retail outlets, including restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

“In our view this should not be limited to products which are high in sugar, but also those high in salt and fat. Voluntary controls are unlikely to work in this area.”

MPs also said they agreed with health officials that confectionery and other less healthy foods should be removed from the ends of aisles and checkouts.

While welcoming the new tax on sugary drinks, MPs concluded they were “extremely disappointed that several key areas for action that could have made the strategy more effective have not been included.”