Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s Medical Director, said that the government’s obesity strategy should have a greater focus on schools. He said that children have a role to play in “educating” their parents and siblings about the importance of a healthy diet.
Sir Bruce’s comments come as Professor Susan Jebb, a key government adviser on the obesity epidemic, suggested that children could act like “Trojan horses” and take messages about healthy eating home.
However, she said it was “naive to imagine we can leave all this to school”, adding that parents and retailers need to take greater responsibility.
She suggested a series of measures including banning Topshop from selling confectionary, “screen free” days at home and persuading new mothers to wean their children with fresh fruit and vegetables rather than sugary snacks.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has said that he will make tackling the “great scandal” of childhood obesity one of his main priorities in this Parliament. The latest figures reveal that one in 10 children are obese when they start primary school and one in five is by the time they leave.
Sir Bruce told MPs that the government’s obesity strategy, which is expected in September, should focus on education.
He said: “I think from our point of view the obesity strategy needs to span a number of government departments. It needs to start with education which is very powerful because it gets to kids who in turn get to their parents and their siblings.
“It needs to start with sugar and other additives, which relate to the formulation of other commercially available products. It needs to relate to issues around transport and exercise.”
Professor Jebb went significantly further.
“There will be a backlash against many of the ideas, but people have got to understand the threat that obesity poses to the NHS,” she said. “We need to look at why what might feel like quite intrusive measures are possibly justified.”
She said that new mothers should wean their children with fresh fruit and vegetables instead of high sugar foods like yoghurts and rusks stop them developing a “sugary palate”.
She said: “Fromage frais and little dairy deserts have so much added sugar. You are acclimatising them [children] to a sugary taste. They should appreciate the natural flavours.”
Parents should have “screen free days” to encourage children to play outside more, and that they should set an example by eating more healthy food themselves.
She criticised the government’s “partial” ban on adverts for fatty and sugary foods during children’s shows, suggesting it needs to be extended to all programmes before a 9pm watershed if it is to be successful.
Professor Jebb suggested that ministers could ban two for one deals on fatty and sugary foods, highlighting the success of a decision by the Scottish government to bar multi-buy deals on alcohol.
She also criticised Topshop, the clothes retailer, for selling a large range of confectionary. “Food and sweets are appearing in shops that have nothing to do with food,” she said. “This is pushing food into areas where it should not be. When people are eating constantly your body loses track of what it had. It prompts people into eating when otherwise they wouldn’t.”
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has previously said that parents are getting it “terribly wrong” because of the number of children who are obese.
“And we know what that will mean – that will mean a rising tide of avoidable type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease and cancer, because we now know that one in five cancers are caused by obesity, not to mention blindness and amputations,” he said.
“So the question for all of us is, are we going to, as the National Health Service, stand by and get ready to treat that burden of illness, or are we going to rattle the cage and advocate for something different?”
Source: The Telegraph