Ban eating on public transport to cut childhood obesity, urges chief medical officer

The government should ban eating and drinking on public transport to help curb childhood obesity, the outgoing chief medical officer has said.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 11:11 am
Updated Thursday, 10th October 2019, 11:18 am

Professor Dame Sally Davies used her final report to demand bolder action from ministers, including stricter regulation of food companies that seek to manipulate children.

As well as calling for snacks to be banned on public transport, Dame Davies has also urged the government to extended the sugar tax – or risk failing to meet its target to halve childhood obesity.

Portsmouth City Council last month approved plans for the trial of a healthy ‘superzone’ around Arundel Court Primary Academy in Landport.

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The chief medical officer has called on government to ban food and drinks on public transport

No new hot food takeaways will be able to open within a 400m radius of the school, while there will also be road closures during school start and close times, a ban on smoking at the school gates and promoting healthy eating in school will also be implemented, in a bid to tackle childhood obesity.

Ideas for the ‘superzone’ came from students at Arundel Court after figures revealed one in four reception aged children in Portsmouth are overweight or obese - above the national average.

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Dame Davies called for the successful tax on sugary drinks to be extended to milk drinks that contain added sugar, such as milkshakes, and for ministers to consider plain packaging for unhealthy food.

And she said more must be done to stop youngsters being ‘dazzled by companies’ offering junk food, saying children are ‘drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options’.

Her report puts her at odds with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has made clear his concerns over ‘sin taxes’ such as the sugar tax, and what he sees as ‘the continuing creep of the nanny state’.

Among her series of bold recommendations, Dame Sally said the Government should:

- Prohibit eating and drinking on public transport in a bid to curb children snacking.

- Extend the sugar tax to sweetened milk-based drinks with added sugar.

- Ensure all publicly-funded sporting venues and major sporting events only advertise and sell low- calorie, low-fat and low-salt and/or sugar products.

- Tax food firms that fail to reduce sugar, fat and salt in their products quickly enough, and consider plain packaging (as for tobacco) for junk food.

- Impose a cap on the number of calories per serving at food outlets.

- Make free drinking water available in takeaways, food shops and restaurants.

- Phase out all marketing, advertising and sponsorship of less healthy food and drink products across all media, including online, at any major public venue or public-funded event, and on any public-sector-owned advertising site.

- Curb car speed limits near schools and homes to help improve air quality and encourage children to walk or cycle.

- Strengthen regulation of marketing of follow-on formula milk and improve promotion of breastfeeding, which is known to help reduce the risk of obesity.

- Introduce mandatory standards for the nutritional content of foods for children under the age of two.

In her review, Dame Sally said ‘excess weight has slowly crept up on us all and is now often accepted as normal’.

Some 1.2 million children are now clinically obese, with some suffering Type 2 diabetes, asthma and musculoskeletal pain, as well as mental health problems, such as depression, she said.

As many as 120,000 cases of asthma in children may be caused by overweight or obesity, her report said, while as many as 650,000 children are thought to have fatty liver disease caused by being overweight.

Increasing portion sizes and the ready availability of junk food means children now, on average, consume three unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks a day, containing seven teaspoons of sugar.

Dame Sally said in her report: ‘The Government ambition is to halve childhood obesity by 2030 - in England, we are nowhere near achieving this.

‘Yet, if we are bold, we can achieve this goal.’

Turning to food firms, she said: ‘I want to see our children's health, not companies' profits, put at the forefront of government policy.’

She said children ;are constantly exposed to advertising for unhealthy food and drink'.

‘Companies often use children's cartoon characters and sponsorship of major sporting events to market these items, casting them as the shining star in children's minds,’ she said.

‘Unhealthy options appear to flow freely, flooding high streets, shops and checkouts.’