Pizzas and pies may have to shrink to curb obesity in children, UK says

Makers of pizzas, ready meals and savoury snacks could be forced to shrink them under UK government proposals to reduce childhood obesity, which figures have revealed has increased by more than a third across England since 2006.

The UK government body Public Health England is meeting major food businesses to discuss how to achieve a 20 per cent calorie reduction in foods popular among children by 2024, as pressure on the industry to create healthier products grows.

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The proposals could limit pizzas and savoury pies to 928 and 695 calories respectively, with health officials recommending parents buy healthier snacks for their children – ideally aiming for a 400-600-600 calorie split across breakfast, lunch and an evening meal.

“Children and adults routinely eat too many calories and it’s why we’ve seen severe obesity in 10- to 11-year-olds at an all-time high,” says Dr Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist at Public Health England. “These are early days in the calorie-reduction programme but the food industry has a responsibility to act. We hope to see early commitment from the food industry … translated into real action, sooner rather than later.”

The proposals followed the publication of figures from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) on Thursday that showed severe obesity among 10- to 11-year-olds in the UK has reached its highest ever level, 4.2 per cent, while 20.1 per cent of that age group are obese. In Hong Kong in 2016-17, 17.6 per cent of primary-school children and 19.9 per cent of secondary-school children were classed as overweight or obese, according to government figures.

The food industry has a responsibility to act. We hope to see … real action, sooner rather than later.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Public Health England

The NCMP report found that more boys than girls are obese. There is also a widening “deprivation gap”, with children in the most-deprived areas twice as likely to be obese as those in the least deprived.

Dr Max Davie, the officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, praised ministers for setting out plans to tackle childhood obesity by, for example, banning junk food advertisements on television before the 9pm watershed.

However, he added: “Access [to], and funding of, high-quality weight management services are urgently needed now if we are to ensure no child slips through the net and all children, no matter where they live, are given the same opportunity to have good health.”

Public Health England, which oversees the NCMP, warned that children who were too heavy were at greater risk of suffering from poor self-esteem, bullying and stigma. They also stood a much greater chance of becoming adults who were overweight or obese, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Steve Brine, UK minister for public health and primary care, said that reversing these very worrying trends in childhood obesity would take a long time. He pointed to the fact that as a result of the tax on sugary drinks that began UK-wide in April, sugar levels in many products had been cut and money from the levy was being used to fund school sports and breakfast clubs.

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Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to halve childhood obesity by 2030. However, medical and public health bodies and charities have said government plans did not go far enough and relied too much on food manufacturers voluntarily reducing sugar levels.

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