Last week I attended the Childhood Obesity Summit joining such notaries as the Chief Medical Officer, the Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, the Chief Exec of the Advertising Standards , the top people on this from the NHS, Public Health England, and the spokesman from the Food & Drinks industry.
There were many slides, countless graphs and mind maps of staggering complexity.
Here’s the whole thing in a few bullet points:
The situation is terrible
The government childhood obesity strategy is inadequate
How terrible? One in ten of our kids are obese by the time they arrive at reception. One in five are obese by the time they leave primary. Kids from the poorest backgrounds are twice as likely to be obese. I could bore you with more stats but they all add up to this...it's terrible.
The government obesity strategy lacks action on recipe reformulation, on fair marketing, and on clear labeling.......the only thing that made the cut was the levy on sugary soft drinks. FFS, 4 million diabetics, 5 million with prediabetes, the next generation are even less healthy and it's breaking our NHS, we are going to need more than a levy on soft drinks.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative chair of the parliamentary health select committee, made some good points. She deplored the omissions from the obesity strategy, but said we need to work with what we’ve got to make the best of it. Of course she is right, we must, and we must continue to press for more. The primary goal they have set is to work with industry to remove 20% of sugar from food by 2020, with little detail of how this might be enforced. It's a fine goal.
Speaker after speaker from Public Health England to McKinsey's to the Food & Drink Industry Federation all said it was “complicated”. I suspect that “it’s complicated” is a line agreed in a room. I fear people are confusing “complicated” with “difficult”. I believe the 80:20 is actually simple, people eat too much bad food and do too little exercise and they pass these on to their kids. Simple. Difficult.
Many strategies were suggested, two stood out.
All the researches shows that the most effective thing would be to reformulate food to contain less sugar. I wholeheartedly agree, it’s obvious. It begs the question as to the best way to encourage industry to reformulate. Simple. Difficult. Apparently sending them to the Tower of London is not an option.
Secondly, half the speakers proposed things schools must do, with OFSTED ready to measure and enforce. Our schools are struggling as it is, over regulation is choking the joy out of teaching. More targets, more inspections, more reasons to be told you’re doing a shit job. I can’t support that. The uncomfortable truth is that parents give the kids chocolate flavoured cereals for breakfast, lunchboxes packed full of sugar then ready meals and takeaways for dinner. Pretending that isn’t the problem because it is too sensitive, because it doesn’t win votes and sell newspaper isn’t gonna solve the problem....and there’s the rub.
Thankfully many of the individuals are dedicated and inspiring, I hope I can help them.