Gratuitous tax or down to the individual: Opinions divide over obesity strategy

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday April 6File photo of children in front of bowls of fruit as young childr

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday April 6File photo of children in front of bowls of fruit as young children are eating too many calories and too much salt and are missing out on key vitamins, experts have warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday April 6, 2016. High intake of protein and too many calories overall puts youngsters at risk of obesity, while too much salt could "set taste preference for the future" and put them at risk of high blood pressure and strokes in later life. See PA story HEALTH Children. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Do we have an obesity problem?

Yes. In Norfolk almost one in four children aged four to five are considered overweight. Among adults, one in six men are overweight or obese, for women, the figure is one in five. In Suffolk a report earlier this year showed a 36pc rise in admissions where obesity was the main reason for a person being admitted or was a secondary factor to the county's two main hospitals in 2014/15. compared to the previous year.

What is the government proposing?

More funds for school sports will come from a tax on sugary drinks, due to come into force in 2018.

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The long-awaited strategy, also includes number of proposals, includes asking the food and drink industry to voluntarily cut 5pc of the sugar in products popular with children over the next year, with an further target of 20pc. If insufficient progress is made, the government will consider 'whether alternative levers need to be used'. It also recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity at primary schools each day

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Does the strategy go far enough?

Louise Smith, director of Public Health at Norfolk County Council, said while it was a 'good start' and each move would help, it was a 'missed opportunity'.

'There are no measures to address advertising to children and I am concerned that proposals for food reformulation are largely voluntary.'

'They have a big task working with the industry and it is going to be difficult to make the change happen. If they don't see progress, they will consider using other levers, but that is four or five years away. This will be the next generation of children.'

Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter, an NHS psychiatrist, said it was not the 'gamechanging' plan for reducing childhood obesity that it had been built up to be. 'This policy has over-promised, but I fear that the reality will be under-delivery.'

He said the sugar tax should be extended to all heavily sugared foods, not just soft drinks.

Or does it go too far?

Stuart Agnew, the UK Independence Party MEP for the East of England - a sugar beat grower - is opposed to 'gratuitous taxation'.

'I really feel people can make decisions on what they eat and drink. I am fully supportive of proper labelling. I smoke a cigar a day, two on Saturdays and two on Sundays, that is my choice, I usually drink some alcohol, that is my choice. I don't have sugar in my tea, but I do grow sugar beat.' He said he did not have sympathy with those who were obese.

'If you want to sit on a conch eating chips all day then you will get revoltingly fat and unhealthy. You can be taught these things in schools, but it is your choice. If you want to throw away your life on a lifestyle like that, it is up to you.'

What will happen if we don't take action? Louise Smith points to the increasing costs to health and social care services as a result of obesity, which she says causes illnesses like cancer and diabetes.

But Stuart Agnew, says: 'These people will die young won't they, so they won't be a burden to the NHS in their old age. There are always two sides to every story. If you do become grossly overweight and die young and have a heart attack at the age of 50, then the NHS won't have to be looking after you for the next 30 years.'

What is being done locally?

Norfolk County Council has initiatives like Fit4It, a healthy weight management programme for overweight children. It has the Fun & Fit family-based exercise programme. Its Get into Summer campaign publicises group activities and has competitions to win outdoor based holidays and cycling equipment. It also has vouchers for swimming at local leisure centres, along with advice on diet and healthy recipes.

Should the strategy just be about children?

No. Louise Smith says there needs to be a shift in the wider culture. 'This isn't just about children, it is also about adults and families. The government feel that it is important to protect children, but my view would be we need the same measures for everyone, adults aswell,' she said.

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