Did the government meet its pledge to tackle childhood obesity?

Helen McKenna

Ahead of the general election on 8 June, we examine whether the government met their 2015 pledges on health and social care.

What did the Conservative party pledge in 2015?

In its 2015 manifesto, the Conservative party pledged to ‘take action to reduce childhood obesity’. In his first speech after being reappointed as Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt committed to publishing a national childhood obesity strategy by the end of 2015. He later described childhood obesity as ‘a national emergency’ and promised a ‘game-changing’ response from the government.

What progress has been made?

The government published its childhood obesity plan for action in August 2016. The plan reaffirmed the government’s commitment to introducing a tax on sugary drinks (previously announced in the 2016 Budget) and included a voluntary reformulation programme for the food and drink industry aimed at reducing the amount of sugar from other products. Despite these proposals, the plan was criticised by the public health community for not going far enough.

For example, it did not take action on key issues such as controls on supermarket offers and advertising of unhealthy food and drinks, both recommendations made by the Health Select Committee in its report on the issue. Many, including the Committee, were also disappointed that participation in the reformulation programme would be voluntary, with concerns that the lack of enforcement would lead to its failure. Commentators argued that the plan was a watered-down version of proposals that the government had been preparing to publish before the June referendum on the EU.

Since the plan was published, legislation enabling the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy has been approved by parliament, and will come into force in April 2018. This appears to have prompted some soft-drinks manufacturers to take action to reduce the amount of sugar their products contain.

The King’s Fund view

By publishing the plan, the government has delivered on its manifesto commitment. However, while progress in reducing the amount of sugar in soft drinks is welcome, much more needs to be done by government and others to tackle one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.

See the other pledges