Jamie's plan to tackle childhood obesity

Over the past 30 years our diets have changed dramatically. Food has become ultra-processed and overly high in salt, fat and sugar. Meanwhile, childhood obesity rates have tripled.¹ It’s not a coincidence. Food is the biggest industry on the planet, and it urgently needs a reset.

A poor diet might not sound as scary as murder or terrorism, but it’s much more likely to kill you.² It’s not just about being obese – excess weight increases susceptibility to type-2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and strokes. All of which are killers in their own right.

Every year the gap in obesity levels between the most and the least disadvantaged children continues to grow. With 19% of UK families struggling to afford proper food for their kids, our poorest families are twice as likely to be obese as the richest.³

We have to face the facts. This isn’t just about individuals “battling the bulge”, it’s about a society-wide normalisation of junk. The food industry is making money, and the taxpayer is left to pick up the medical bills. NHS CEO Simon Stevens says British taxpayers are spending more on treating obesity-related conditions than on the fire and police services combined. The NHS spends £5.1bn a year on obesity.⁴ And the UK loses £27bn per year in productivity to poor diets.⁵

What I’m campaigning for feels outrageously simple: truth and choice. Right now, we don’t have either.

  • Truth: We don’t stand a chance of making good decisions if we don’t have honest, reliable, transparent information about what’s in our food and how it affects our bodies.
  • Choice: We need genuinely healthy food to be affordable and accessible before we can be blamed for making poor choices.

This plan outlines clear, simple, proven policies to reset the way we think about food, health and obesity. We need an ambush on this problem from all sides. Each point works on its own, and they come together to form a cohesive plan that addresses our entire food environment.

Jamie Oliver

Download Jamie’s cross-party letter

1. MARKETING & ADVERTISING

  • 9pm watershed on TV for food and drinks which are high in salt, fat or sugar (HFSS) and therefore don’t meet with the Nutrient Profiling Model.
  • Protect children from exposure to HFSS marketing across non-broadcast channels, including online and social media beyond current CAP code which only applies to sites where children make up more than 25% of the audience⁶ and which is not adequately enforced
  • Restrict price promotions like multi-buys for HFSS food and drinks. Encourage price promotions and deals of healthy food, to create a level playing field.
  • Powers to local authorities to request HFSS ads be removed from billboards, bus stops, stadiums, or from outside their schools and to restrict HFSS sponsorship of sports events and clubs.
  • Ban on licensed and other characters (e.g. cartoon characters) and celebrities popular with children from being used to promote HFSS products.
  • Meaningful sanctions for non-compliance.

2. LEVIES & TAXATION

  • Expansion of the sugary drinks levy to cover other product categories which constitute significant sources of sugar in the diets of children.⁷
  • Additional resources from these levies to be spent on promoting children’s health

3. INDUSTRY REFORMULATION

  • Compulsory sugar and calorie reduction targets set by Public Health England with meaningful sanctions for non-compliance, with the intention of improving the overall nutritional value of food.

4. ENERGY DRINKS

  • Ban on sale of energy drinks⁸ to under 16s (require ID) across all retail settings.

5. LABELLING & POINT OF SALE INFO

  • Mandatory front-of-pack colour-coded nutrition labels (linked to Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that Brexit is an opportunity to deliver clearer labelling.)
  • Companies should not be allowed to make any nutrition or health claim if the product is high in either salt, fat or sugar and therefore doesn’t meet with the current Nutrient Profiling Model.

6. SCHOOLS AND EARLY YEAR SETTINGS

  • Full and timely implementation and monitoring of the recommendations contained in Chapter 1 of the Child Obesity Action Plan, including updating the School Food Standards to account for updated dietary recommendations for free sugars and fibre.⁹
  • School Food Standards should be mandatory for all schools including all academies. Healthy Rating Scheme should be mandatory for all schools including all academies.
  • Food standards should also be adhered to in Early Years Settings. (Example Menus for Early Years settings should be developed for example)¹⁰
  • OFSTED must monitor the above actions.

7. HEALTHCARE

  • Mandatory training for GPs and other health professionals on key aspects of nutrition including how to talk about weight in a helpful way and refer patients to nutritional experts. This could include referrals to weight loss clinics with registered nutritionists and dieticians or cooking and food education programs certified by RSPH.
  • The Government should commit to increased and continued investment in public health budgets to ensure the continuation of the National Childhood Measurement Programme and that Local Authorities provide, and signpost to, appropriate weight management services.

8. PUBLIC BUILDINGS AND WORKPLACES

  • Workplace catering in public buildings to provide healthy options, reasonable portion sizes, and clear nutrition information on menus.¹¹,¹²
  • Vending machines in public buildings (including the one in Number 10) should provide healthier choices.¹³
  • Create a healthy food environment for NHS staff, making hospital food standards mandatory¹⁴ and guaranteeing all hospitals will meet the CQUIN asks by 2019¹⁵
  • Support flexi-hour arrangements for breastfeeding mothers

9. OUT OF HOME

  • Amend the Food Safety Act to reflect the importance of nutrition to long-term health
  • Creation of health standards for restaurants. Rate relief or other incentives for restaurants based on these standards that provide healthy options, reasonable portion sizes,¹⁶ and clear nutrition information on menus.¹⁷
  • Mandatory calorie labels on menus.  Full nutrition information should also be available online and in restaurants.
  • Give local authorities greater powers to limit the prevalence of hot food takeaways near schools.

10. SETTING TARGETS AND MEASURING PROGRESS

The government should set a bold target to halve childhood obesity by 2030

What gets measured gets done. We need to find new, progressive metrics that track the cause of our eating and food habits across the board and which are independently monitored.

The government must stand up and be counted and commit to do everything possible to halve childhood obesity within the next 10 years, and to chart that progress. We must carefully and intelligently form policies based on the information we have to hand – putting the facts at the heart of any strategy.

We urgently need to make proper, meaningful steps to protect our kids from the future they currently face. We have many of the tools we need, it’s just about making the changes happen. This is a pivotal moment where it has to get personal. It’s not about a brand, a company, a government or a party any more – it’s about people, education, truth and choice.

¹ The State of Food and Agriculture 2013 (PDF, 2.44Mb)
² UK risks of death infographic – atlas of risk NHS
³ 
Pereira, A.L., Handa, S. and Holmqvist, G. Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Children Across the Globe, Innocenti Working Paper 2017-09, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence
⁴  Scarborough P, Bhatnagar P, Wickramasinghe KK et al. The economic burden of ill health due to diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol and obesity in the UK: an update to 2006/07 NHS costs. J Public Health (Oxon) 2011;33(4):527-35.
⁵ McKinsey Global Institute. 2014. Overcoming Obesity: an initial economic analysis
⁶ https://www.asa.org.uk/news/tougher-new-food-and-drink-rules-come-into-effect-in-children-s-media.html
⁷ biscuits; breakfast cereals; cakes; chocolate confectionery; ice cream; morning goods (e.g. pastries, buns and waffles); puddings (including pies and tarts); sweet confectionery; yoghurts and soft drinks. See Table 1 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/604336/Sugar_reduction_achieving_the_20_.pdf
⁸ Energy drinks with more than 150 mg of caffeine per litre
⁹ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-carbohydrates-and-health-report
¹⁰ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/example-menus-for-early-years-settings-in-england
¹¹  This could include a mandatory percentage of healthy options on the menu or clear nutrition information on menus, e.g. calorie labelling. Or serving every meal with a mandatory portion of vegetables.
¹² https://view.publitas.com/bha/bha-industry-nutrition-guide-for-catering-managers-and-chefs/page/8-9
¹³  i.e. a percentage of foods meeting the Nutrient Profiling Model
¹⁴ https://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/NHShospitals/Pages/hospital-food-standards.aspx
¹⁵ https://www.foodforlife.org.uk/~/media/files/hospitals/cquin-2017-19_briefing_ffl.pdf
¹⁶  We await PHE’s guidelines on calorie reduction
¹⁷  This could include a mandatory percentage of healthy options on the menu or clear nutrition information on menus, e.g. calorie labelling. Or serving every meal with a mandatory portion of vegetables.