The governments new plans to tackle childhood obesity hit the headlines this weekend, but how much of a ‘problem’ is childhood obesity, and is the government right to try and tackle this at all?
1 in 3 children in the U.K. is either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, with those from deprived areas twice as likely to be affected.
There are some pretty obvious downsides to childhood obesity to both the individual and society – such as the increased risk of obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, and estimated annual cost to the NHS of > £billion/ year.
The government today announced a set of measures designed to halve the number of children suffering from obesity by 2030, which included
- A ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.
- A uniform calorie labeling system to be introduced in all restaurants, cafes and takeaways.
- Shops are to banned from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts and entrances
- Shops are to banned from including unhealthy food in special offers.
- Primary schools would be asked to introduce an “active mile” to encourage children to be more active, including daily running sessions and an emphasis on walking and cycling to school.
The plan forms the second chapter of the government’s childhood obesity strategy. The first chapter was criticized for being too weak when it was published two years ago.
Given the increase in childhood obesity, this seems to be like a timely intervention:
Arguments for banning advertising junk food to children
There is strong evidence that children who are more exposed to advertising are more likely to eat more junk food, which is a starting point argument for banning the ads.
Even if you argue that is is the parents’ responsibility to control what their kids eat, the fact that in reality, it is simply impossible for parents to regulate every aspect of their children’s lives: kids are going to go online and be exposed to whatever’s there: better that junk food adverts are not.
This move ‘fits into’ the general movement towards more child protection. In fact, I think it’s odd that junk food manufactures have been exempt from doing harm to children (by pushing their products onto them) for so long.
Those of a liberal persuasion would probably be against even more state intervention in the lives of families, however I personally don’t see these policies as ‘intervening’ in the lives of families, they are more about forcing companies to restrain their marketing of unhealthy food to children, so personally I can’t think of any decent arguments against these government policies…… suggestions welcome in the comments!
- The Nuffield Trust: Can the NHS help solve the U.K’s obesity epidemic?
- The Obesity Health Alliance Briefing Paper
- The Independent: Energy Drinks set to be Banned for the Under-16s….
- Image sources: House of Commons briefing paper on obesity, 2018.