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Action on Sugar

National Audit Office: Childhood Obesity


A report by the National Audit Office warns that Government efforts to fight child obesity risk getting lost in reorganisations and delays - 20 years of targets and policies have had limited success and new initiatives may fall short too.

This report examines the effectiveness of the government’s approach to reducing childhood obesity in England by considering the evidence base and progress so far. They focused on children as dealing with obesity early in life prevents future costs and obesity-related health problems and also on preventive measures rather than treatment.

The report sets out:

  • levels and trends in childhood obesity
  • government action to reduce childhood obesity
  • local authorities’ role in reducing childhood obesity

Report conclusions

  • Governments have been grappling with childhood obesity since the 2000s, with limited success.
  • In 2018/19, nearly one tenth of 4 to 5 year olds and more than one fifth of 10 to 11 year olds were classified obese.
  • A estimated 1.4 million children aged from 2 to 15 years old were classified obese in 2018.
  • Not only is obesity increasing for 10 to 11 year olds, it is increasing even faster for children in deprived areas.
  • While the programme aims to tackle this issue, it is not yet clear that the actions within the programme are the right ones to make the step-change needed in the timescale available.
  • Progress with the programme has been slow and many commitments are not yet in place, although the new strategy announced in July 2020 has signalled new legislation and greater willingness to act to reduce obesity.
  • The government will need to act with greater urgency, commitment, co-ordination and cohesion if it is to address this severe risk to health and value for money.

Earlier this year, ahead of Boris Johnson’s imminent plans to address obesity in the UK, Action on Sugar, Action on Salt and 47 other health charities and leading researchers representing both the treatment and prevention of obesity, urged the Prime Minister to implement ALL outstanding recommendations previously committed to as part of an evidence-based package in Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of the Government’s childhood obesity prevention plan and created ‘Scorecard 2020: The road to preventing obesity’.

Mhairi Brown, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Action on Sugar said:

“While we are well aware of the failures inherent in the Government’s action on obesity to date, the National Audit Office’s analysis of the Department of Health and Social Care’s oversight of the policy was of particular interest. This report lays bare that DHSC have few mechanisms to ensure coordinated action across Government departments, are not able to hold departments to account and have no knowledge of how much is actually being spent on preventing obesity across Government.

It is clear we need a new, independent and transparent food watchdog, free from ministerial, industry and other vested-interest influences. This will enable evidence-based policy making, putting the health of the nation first.”

Gareth Davies, Head of the National Audit Office said:

“Tackling childhood obesity is a major challenge, and one that governments have struggled with since the 2000s. It is clear that children living in deprived areas or from ethnic minorities are far more likely to be obese and the problem is worsening.

“Progress with the Childhood Obesity Programme has been slow and many commitments are not yet in place. The new strategy announced in July has signalled a greater intention to tackle obesity but the government will need to follow through with more urgency, commitment and cohesion if it is to address this severe risk to people’s health.”







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