The much delayed strategy was released today to bitter disappointment. Public health and children’s organisations broadly agree that the plan will fail a generation of children – and we absolutely agree.
The strategy is this: the introduction of a levy on sugar-sweetened beverages, and, er – that’s pretty much it. The UK Childhood Obesity Strategy picks on one slither of the problem-pie and makes no strategic attempts at tackling the obesogenic food environment.
There’s nothing to regulate the promotion and advertising of unhealthy foods, nothing on planning controls to tackle the ubiquity of unhealthy foods – which we know are worryingly concentrated in close proximity to schools and areas of multiple deprivation, and, most importantly, the strategy does nothing to increase access to healthy foods.
The scale of the problem is serious; 1/3 of school children in the UK are overweight or obese, and this poses a number of life-long challenges to health and well-being. And yet this strategy is essentially business as usual; relying on voluntary action from the food industry which has been hugely unsuccessful to date.
Last year Nourish proposed that the Scottish Government take the lead in comprehensive action including through the introduction of a Retailer’s Levy. This would be a levy on large retailers, primarily supermarkets, for the difference between the composition of their sales against dietary reference values. This could be easily calculated using existing data on sales, and would incentivise supermarkets to promote healthy foods – thereby increasing accessibility. Supermarkets have dominated the food scene – they’re as ubiquitous as unhealthy food – and with great power must come great responsibility.
Children have a right to a health and adequate nutrition, they also have a right to be meaningfully heard throughout the process, we hope Holyrood will act where Westminster has embarrassingly failed again.