25/01/17 – Working with the Childhood Obesity Plan

Speakers: Tim Rycroft, Food  & Drink Federation; Jack Winkler, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Policy, London Metropolitan University, Emma Reed, Deputy Director, Childhood Obesity Branch, DoH

25 January 2017 – meeting notes

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fit and Healthy Childhood

Working with the Childhood Obesity Plan

Chair: Baroness Benjamin

The meeting was opened by Baroness Benjamin who welcomed the members and the speakers, and commented on the success of the government’s new Childhood Obesity Plan and its reception in the press.  A meeting with Lord Nash on the 8th of February also showed how positive the proposals have been.

Tim Rycroft; Director for Corporate affairs, Food and Drink Federation

The Childhood Obesity Plan and its goals have had positive approval from all sectors. The focus of the report on a universal programme of reformulation based on McKinsey’s recommendations is welcomed by industry. The plan has been supported by the Food and Drink Federation since its inception in 2015. However, the focus of the soft drinks levy on sugar reduction does not tackle the problem. The figure of a 20% reduction in sugar consumption is an arbitrary figure.  This figure is unlikely to be met across the board.  The out of home sector must be further engaged in the process. Jack Winkler; Emeritus Professor of Nutrition Policy, London Metropolitan University

The scale of the obesity issue is highlighted in the following figures:

The health-related Sustainable Development Goals in 188 countries highlighting, in particular, the problem with children’s weight falling into the category of ‘pronounced’.

The National Childhood Measurement Programme 2015-16 showed Year 6 children, this year, having the worst rate of obesity rate of the last decade. It also showed 22% of Reception age children are overweight or obese. This provides evidence of the need to focus on the parents to change children’s diets.

Date from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed 45% of pregnant women are obese at their first maternity appointment.

The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 63% women and 73% of men will be obese.

The focus must be on economy and investment. Radical government cuts to the NHS will have an extremely negative effect on the obesity figures.  There is a focus on a reformulation plan on 9 foods and it was questioned whether the government will follow through on the plan and whether it will be enduring.

Emma Reed; Deputy Director, Childhood Obesity Branch, Department of Health

Childhood obesity is a huge, complex problem; at the moment 1 in 10 reception children are obese and this rises to 1 in 5 for year six children. Those from the most deprived backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be obese as the children who are most well-off. And being obese increases a child’s risk of all sorts of health conditions: asthma, bone and muscle problems, mental health problems, and we are now even seeing children who have developed type 2 diabetes, which was virtually unheard of ten or twenty years ago. Obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults who are more likely to have heart problems, stroke, several types of cancer, liver disease… This costs the NHS billions of pounds every year (£5.1bn in England).

The Childhood Obesity Plan was published in August last year and since then, we have been excited to move to delivering the actions within it and have made important progress.

Making the environment healthier

The actions in the Plan are based on the best scientific evidence we have, which tells us that we are all consuming too much sugar. Children in particular are consuming 2 to 3 times the amount of sugar they should be. This increases their calorie intake and it’s not good for their oral health either.

You will have seen in the media that the average 5-year-old will eat and drink their body weight in sugar every year, or that children are consuming half of their recommended daily sugar intake before they even get to school, or that teenagers are drinking the equivalent of a bathtub full of sugary drinks every year. We need to enable them to make healthier choices.

One way we are achieving this is the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which is designed to encourage producer-led reformulation. In December, the Government published its response to the consultation and draft legislation. The Finance Bill will be published later this year.

The levy is working even before it has been officially introduced: Tesco and Lucozade-Ribena-Suntory announced cuts to the sugar content of their drinks. Alongside SDIL, NHS is consulting on the sale of sugary drinks in hospitals.

We are also making the food environment healthier through reformulation of the nine food categories which most contribute to children’s sugar consumption. 20% of sugar in these products will be removed over four years, including 5% in the first year, and we will be transparently monitoring industry. Later on this could be extended to total calories/fat.

There have been constructive meetings between PHE and all nine categories; baseline data and targets will be published later this year.

Again, many companies have already begun to reduce the sugar in their products, such as Waitrose and Petits Filous. You may also have seen Nestlé’s announcement that they have discovered a way to reduce the sugar content in chocolate by 40% without compromising the taste.

We believe that we can replicate our world-leading work on salt-reduction, where we were able to work with the food industry to reduce salt levels gradually by up to 50% everyday foods.

We will also be collaborating with industry on advertising. We already have the toughest regulations in the world. CAP has announced new rules for children’s media, to ban the advertising of HFSS food and drink from July 2017.


We are introducing a school rating scheme, which will encourage and support schools to help their pupils eat more healthily, do more physical activity and get a better understanding of what makes a healthy lifestyle and why this is so important.

We have had productive talks with Ofsted on the thematic review which will happen later on this year, and we are currently working on how the scheme itself will look.

Revenue from the levy will also be used to make schools healthier. We are going to double the school sports premium, expand healthy breakfast clubs in primary schools, and extend the school day in secondary schools.

We will be publishing updated menus for early years settings. We recognise that early years are really important – we know that 1 in 10 children are obese before they even start school. And there are nearly 18,000 full day-care settings in England, and we want them each to be making their food and physical environments healthier in the way that’s right for them.

In terms of educating the wider public, we are providing more information on labelling and how to shop healthily. PHE’s new Food Smart App was released in January, and has already proved popular. It will give families greater confidence in making healthier choices as they shop.

The whole system approach is hugely important. The Childhood Obesity Plan is just one element of a huge amount of work being done to solve childhood obesity, locally as well as nationally. There is a role for everyone: schools, NHS, local authorities, NGOs, food and drink industry, the media, parents. It’s only by mobilising the whole system that we’ll be able to make continued, sustained, effective progress in order to reduce the rate of childhood obesity and reduce the inequality gap.

Comment from Steve Frank, Water Babies:  0-5 year old are often ignored and more attention needs to be paid to obesity in this age range.

Comment from Giles Platt, Bromley Primary School Sports and Clubs Development Association: Will the sugar tax be able to raise all of the funds required to meet costs associated with the doubling of the PE and Sports Premium from September 2017? Can Government also tackle the soft governance affecting the strategy, including Ofsted scrutiny, that is resulting in ever increasing loopholes being created and consequently exploited by some schools e.g. using the funds to offset school budget cuts?

Emma Reed responded the doubling of the sports premium was confirmed. However, as mentioned the problem of some schools needing it more was still an issue. Jack Winkler mentioned that the school fringe report made clear that there was a problem with children buying food out of schools.

Comment from Doug Berlin, Fitter Future: How can schools become aware of the Childhood Obesity Strategy?

Emma Reed explained that through government mechanisms, and non-governmental bodies like those in the room will all help to promote the plan and implement its points.

Comment from Linda Baston-Pitt, Cambridge Childhood Partnership: Do the guidelines on labelling need to be compulsory? Does there need to better infographic to explain the childhood obesity plan?

Emma Reed confirmed infographics had been planned. Tim Rycroft said the traffic light system was best in Europe and how industry took its lead from legislation.  Jack Winkler mentioned how salt reformulation success had been achieved without using labels.

Comment from Michael Baber, Health Action Campaign: Should volumes of food be addressed? Should consideration of sugar replacements and new products that will act as sugar substitutes be looked at?

Tim Rycroft mentioned that artificial sweeteners were not subject to the same licensing.

Comment from John Herriman, Greenhouse Sports: How can Ofsted take a balanced approach and look at the whole school agenda?

Emma Reed agreed that OFSTED must view clubs, sports and food as a school wide policy.

Comment from Charlotte Davies, Fit 2 Learn: New packaging welcome but a whole family approach is needed.

Baroness Benjamin mentioned the success of new approaches in media and with apps.

 Comment Professor Wendy Wills, University of Hertfordshire:  There must be an emphasis on healthy eating that targets students.

Comment from Maria Bronson, Striver: How can obese parents recognise that their children are obese, and do they want to?

Panel discussed the need for health visitors and GPs to challenge parents to understand the health implications.

Comment from Joel James, Active Alfie: Which organisation decides on food labelling?

Tim Rycroft: Industry follows the European directive on labelling and then reaches a consensus.  Industry takes its lead from the scientific community and is leading in Europe on good packaging.  Industry would be mistrusted if they made suggestions on packaging.

Comment from Dr Simon Williams, Association for the Study of Obesity:   Should policy be addressing real food instead of focussing on the processed food?

Jack Winkler mentioned that unstoppable trend towards packaged and processed food were now the major issue, so policy must focus on what people are consuming.

Comment from Paul Aagaard, Recipe for Change: How can we collaborate to make lunchtime a priority?

Comment from Jillian Pitt, Mytime Active:  Will there be funding to help with the proposed new rating scheme?

Emma Reed raised the point that rural areas with less infrastructure need to be targeted.

Comment from Holly Eager, The Daily Mile: Baseline level in PE is important and a holistic approach is needed

Jack Winkler closed group by stressing the importance of an upcoming decision about quotas of sugar in the agricultural sector and the implications it may have on the falling price of sugar and possible repercussions of increased levels in food.