Crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks could be sold in plain packaging already required for cigarettes, under proposals for tackling soaring rates of childhood obesity being explored by England’s chief medical officer.
Dame Sally Davies is leading a review of measures to tackle childhood obesity and said she would be considering whether lessons learned from tobacco control could be applied to tackle consumption of unhealthy foods.
Plain packaging would help challenge the power of corporate snack manufacturers and put unhealthy foods on a “level playing field” with unbranded fruits and vegetables, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank concluded.
“It has potential to be part of the solution to the obesity crisis and will be explored in my formal review of childhood obesity.”
It comes after campaign groups revealed the shocking amounts of sugar, fat and salt in foods which appeal to children by using cartoon mascots on their packaging.
Action on Sugar and Salt found that over half (51 per cent) of 526 products using animated characters on their packets were so unhealthy they would not be allowed to be advertised during children’s TV.
The worst offenders involved highly popular TV shows, such as Peppa Pig Candy Bites, which are 99 per cent sugar, and Paw Patrol chocolate coins, which were 60 per cent sugar.
In its “Ending the Blame Game” report, the IPPR also called for a levy on large supermarkets to pay for community cooking classes and banning junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed.
The call for drastic action is a response to decades of progress in reducing preventable disease linked to obesity and smoking flatlining since 2012.
This collapse coincides with massive cuts to public health funding as part of the government’s austerity drive.
The IPPR said the result was 130,000 more deaths than would have been predicted based on trends up until 2013.
“Following several decades of improvement, progress on tackling preventable illness and death has stalled,” said Harry Quilter-Pinner, one of the report’s co-authors.
“As a result, more than 100,000 people will have died or become chronically ill who otherwise might not have done.
“That comes at a cost to them, their families, the NHS and the country generally – yet it could have been avoided with a small increase in investment into disease prevention. We must never forget that the nation’s health is also the nation’s wealth.”
Councils are responsible for funding public health interventions. But local authority leaders warn more than £700m has been cut from grant funding for obesity, smoking and sexual health services and budgets for parks and leisure centres are being squeezed.
“This report echoes recommendations that we have called for and highlights that prevention is the bedrock to a healthier, more equal and prosperous society,” said Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board.
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