A ban on food on public transport and an extension of the sugar tax are among radical proposals by the outgoing chief medical officer in her fight against childhood obesity.
In her final report before stepping down from the role, Professor Dame Sally Davies warns the government is set to miss its target of halving obesity in children unless it takes bolder steps, including stricter regulations on food companies that target children.
Dame Sally wants to see the successful tax on sugary drinks to be extended to milk drinks with added sugar, as well as consideration from ministers for plain packaging for unhealthy foods.
She also wants to see the government tackle companies that dazzle young people by offering junk food, adding children are drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been a critic in the past of initiatives such as the sugar tax, which he sees as the continuing creep of the nanny state.
However, in her report, Dame Sally said: Excess weight has slowly crept up on us all and is now often accepted as normal.
She adds that around 1.2 million children are classed as clinically obese, with many of them having side effects including Type 2 diabetes, asthma and mental health problems.
Dame Sally said in her report: The government ambition is to halve childhood obesity by 2030 – in England, we are nowhere near achieving this.
Yet, if we are bold, we can achieve this goal.
Addressing food companies, she added: I want to see our children’s health, not companies’ profits, put at the forefront of government policy.
Companies often use children’s cartoon characters and sponsorship of major sporting events to market these items, casting them as the shining star in children’s minds, she said.
Adverts are everywhere, from bus stops to our mobile phones. Children are explicitly targeted with sophisticated techniques.
She adds: Politicians, I call on all of you across the political spectrum to come together and take action. The health of our children is in your hands.
Dame Sally’s report was welcomed by health charities and campaign groups.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: This report is an important intervention, and the Government must heed Dame Sally’s comments and take bold action now if childhood obesity is going to be halved by 2030.
That sentiment is shared by the Obesity Health Alliance, which says: Changing the factors that influence childhood obesity is firmly within the gift of politicians.
Growing up healthy is every child’s right and we strongly encourage the government to step up and do the right thing and put children’s health, not company profits, at the forefront of Government policy.
Not everyone agrees with Dame Sally’s comments though.
Matt Kilcoyne, deputy director of a neoliberal think tank, called on the government to ignore the report, saying: No more chocolate bars on long train journeys, beer at the rugby, and a cap on servings in restaurants and cafes that’ll spell the end of the good old British scone and clotted cream.
This report demonstrates better than anyone ever could the case for ending the gravy train for nanny state quangocrats, and the need to refocus instead on public welfare and the enjoyment of life.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who commissioned the report, said: Professor Dame Sally Davies has done more than anyone to promote the health of the nation over a decade as CMO. Her parting report is no different and we will study it closely and act on the evidence.
The Labour Party has also welcomed the report, with Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth saying: Labour has led the way in demanding a ban on junk food advertising before the watershed and on extending the sugar tax.
But over a year since the obesity plan was published, the government continues to do nothing but window dress their commitment to child obesity.