The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a left-wing think tank, has called on ministers to go further than the UK Government’s own obesity crackdown measures by extending its sugar tax, which is already applied to fizzy drinks and to unhealthy foods.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month revealed the Better Health campaign, designed to encourage Britons to slim down, both to ease the pressure caused by obesity on the NHS and to assist people in surviving a brush with coronavirus.
Junk food adverts before the 9pm television watershed when children are more likely to be watching are set to be banned, along with tempting confectionery stands next to checkout tills, in a bid to prevent children from picking up bad eating habits at a young age.
But the IPPR, in a report published today, said more needed to be done to bring child obesity levels down to the low levels of the 1980s, a move that could save the NHS £66 billion over the course of the children’s lifetimes.
It said that fewer than 2 per cent of children had obesity in the 1980s but today a fifth of children entering secondary school are classified as medically obese, according to publicly available data it analysed.
To ensure that the Government reaches its target of halving child obesity by 2030, the IPPR recommends that a non-essential levy of 8 per cent is applied to unhealthy foods exceeding a set “energy density”. The report authors said that similar taxes on junk food in Mexico and Hungary had been successful in driving down consumption and argued it would provide an incentive to food producers to reformulate their products to be healthier.
It also called for a healthy food subsidy scheme, worth £21 a week, for all children on free school meals, redeemable for any essential foods, in a bid to recognise the demographic inequality at the heart of the obesity crisis.
Costing about £1.5 billion a year, the scheme would be funded by the levy on fattening food, said the IPPR.
With improved lifestyles and diets reducing the prevalence of deadly conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, the IPPR predicted such health-conscious policies could take the strain off the NHS.
Chris Thomas, IPPR senior health fellow, said: “In July, the Government made welcome commitments to tackle obesity, but faced with the scale of the obesity epidemic, it was just one small step, not a giant leap.
“The disastrous impact of obesity on our health and society demands we go further.
“Success could facilitate the kind of major health gains the Victorians achieved through sanitation, or childhood immunisation in the 20th century.”