Sugar and Salt the New Nicotine!


We need to make a massive improvement to the diets of everyone but especially children if we are to stop what can only be described as the obesity tsunami facing our Country

Regular readers of this blog might feel that I obsess about obesity and especially childhood obesity. Perhaps I do, but my justification for this is the absolute knowledge which is now available from so many sources that we are slowly poisoning our children.

You might think that this is a dreadful overstatement but it is not. I have looked at statistic after statistic and have seen how there is a remorseless rise in the number of people of all ages that are obese. The latest report from the House of Commons Select Committee shows that approximately 5% of 11- year olds are severely obese and that half that are already seriously obese when they start school at the age of 5. On top of that another 25% are recognised as being obese at the age of 11. The figures for Liverpool are worse than the national average.

I sometimes wonder why I go down to London such a lot. I know just about every junction and set of points on the West Coast Main Line. But I was delighted to see yesterday a report which is published today by the House of Commons Health Select Committee. I was heavily involved in drawing up the evidence for this which I then went on to present to the Select Committee on behalf of the Local Government Association. I attach the summary of the report below.

Basically, the Committee accepted every bit of the LGA’s evidence and suggestions and also looked at many areas outside the remit of local government. They endorsed our work and I now endorse theirs in its entirety. This was a united report from all the members of the Select Committee. I was delighted that it includes local MPs such as Lucian Berger (Wavertree) and Rosie Cooper (West Lancs). If ever there was a need for all Parties to come together to deal with an issue this is one of the most important.

But now the report need turning into action. The MPs asked for a whole systems approach to the issue which involves action by schools; councils; the NHS; youth centres; the media; supermarkets and so many more organisations. We can warn of problems; inform people of the amounts of sugar and salt in foods and how to avoid them. I reiterate once more my hope that people will turn to healthier food and drink such as Green Cola instead of branded goods such as Coca Cola with their huge marketing budgets.

So, I have tabled a motion to the next meeting of the Health Select Committee of Liverpool Council. This is it.

“This health committee welcomes the recent report of the House of Commons Health Select Committee. It recognises that obesity currently costs the NHS £6.1 billion each year which does not count the increase in cancers caused by obesity or the muscular/skeletal failures caused by obesity which lead to shorter, unhealthier lives with much more medical and clinical intervention required.

It recognises further strong links between obesity and mental ill health.

It welcomes the work already being done by the Council in combatting obesity at all levels. It notes that this is a problem across all demographic groups but which proportionately affects lower income groups with more restricted food choices available to them.

It requests:

  1. The Director of Public Health and the Liverpool CCG to produce a report on both what is being done and what needs to be done in the City including details and the potential of the Council’s work; health service interventions; youth service interventions and work that could be done with the private sector including retailers to coordinate action to reduce the purchase of food and drink containing excess levels of salt; sugar and trans fats.
  2. The Director of Public Health and Cabinet Member to work with Luciana Berger MP, a leading member of the Health Select Committee, to promote an ‘Obesity Summit’ in which the report can be presented and a full blown anti-obesity campaign can be commenced.
  3. A “Task Group” of this Committee be established to coordinate actions in this vital field”

This is entirely none political; recognises the need for local government and MPs to work together and would place Liverpool in the forefront of actions on this matter. I really hope that the Select Committee will realise the urgency of this and support it and get cracking with it.

This is the overview of the Parliamentary Select Committee’s findings:

Health and Social Care Committee

Select Committee Announcement

30 May 2018


Childhood obesity needs to be everyone’s business, says Health and Social Care Committee

The Government must change the narrative around childhood obesity, to make it clear that this is everyone’s business. So, says the Health and Social Care Committee in its latest report into the subject.

The Government is expected to publish shortly a refreshed version of the childhood obesity plan first published in summer 2016. The Committee has identified several key areas which demand attention as a matter of urgency by the Government before the next chapter of the plan is finalised. The Committee is calling for an effective childhood obesity plan with a joined-up, ‘whole systems’ approach and one which focuses particularly on tackling the ever-widening health inequality due to childhood obesity between the richest and poorest areas.

Marketing and advertising  

The report endorses calls for a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising. There needs to be a ban on brand generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote HFSS (high fat, sugar and salt) products on broadcast and non-broadcast media, and the Government must align regulations on non-broadcast media with those for broadcast media.

In addition, the Government must regulate to restrict the discounting and price promotions which drive higher volumes of consumption of unhealthy food and drink. This does not need to make food more expensive as retailers could change their offers to healthier products.

We also urge the Government to level the playing field for retailers and act to ban confectionery and other unhealthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts. Responsible retailers have requested that this is underpinned by statutory measures. 

Current progress on labelling in the UK is reliant on voluntary commitments and is therefore not universally applied. Calorie labelling at point of food choice for the out-of-home food sector would provide basic information to enable healthier choices.

Early years and schools and Services

The Committee calls for targets to improve rates of breastfeeding, to combat childhood obesity, and urge a full and timely implementation of all of the school-centred measures contained in the original 2016 Child Obesity Action Plan. Local authorities need to be allowed to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas and the prevalence of HFSS food and drink billboard advertising near schools. Existing powers are not sufficient and we again call for health to be made an objective within the planning system in order to give local authorities the tools they need to make effective changes at local level.

The Government must ensure there are robust systems in place to not only identify children who are overweight or obese, but to ensure that these children are offered effective help in a multidisciplinary approach, and that service provision extends to their families. Throughout our report, we emphasise the need to focus on ‘healthy lifestyles’ rather than using stigmatising language. 

We were impressed by the progress that has been made in Amsterdam using a whole systems approach. 

We urge the Government to go further in making sure that we identify children at risk of obesity at an earlier stage and make sure that they and their families can access the right help. Prevention of obesity however is everyone’s business and the widening health inequality can no longer be ignored.

Chair of the Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, says, “Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most disadvantaged communities and this unacceptable health inequality has widened every year since records began. The consequences for these children are appalling and this can no longer be ignored. We want to see a whole systems approach and for local authorities to be given the powers they need to reduce childhood obesity in their communities. Health needs to be made an objective within the planning and licensing system.

Government needs to further help reduce childhood obesity by introducing tougher restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food, including by bringing in a 9pm advertising watershed. It should also act to protect children by banning the offers and displays that push high volume sales and impulse buying of junk food and drink. I welcome the sugary drinks levy that has already played a vital role in driving reformulation and call for this to be extended to milky drinks which contain added sugar.”  


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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