Lobby groups renew call for action on childhood obesity

Professor Graham MacGregor

Lobby groups have renewed calls for action as they pick over the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) published by Public Health England last week.

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, said the data showed that children were still consuming almost three times more sugar than the daily maximum recommendation.

He commented: “Theresa May must urgently rethink her pathetic childhood obesity plan, which lacks restrictions on the marketing of, and promotions on, products high in saturated fat, sugar and salt and revert back with an evidenced-based robust strategy to effectively reduce levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes and tackle health inequalities which she promised the nation back in July.”

The strategy must include the implementation of the soft drinks industry levy and a mandatory reformulation programme, as a voluntary system does not work, he demanded.

The NDNS survey covers a representative sample of around 1,000 people per year, with the latest publication covering the years 2012-14.

It found that the intake of average non-milk extrinsic sugars (‘added’ or ‘free’ sugars, which include sugars added by the manufacturer) exceeded the recommendation (no more than 11% of food energy) for all age/sex groups except women aged 65 years and over (10.4%).

Intake was highest for children aged four to 10 years (13.4% of food energy) and 11 to 18 years (15.2% of food energy).

The main sources of NMES in children aged 18 years and under were ‘cereal and cereal products’ (mainly cakes and biscuits), ‘non-alcoholic beverages’ (soft drinks and fruit juice), and ‘sugar, preserves and confectionery’.

The main sugar sources in adults aged 19 years and over were ‘sugar, preserves and confectionery’, ‘non-alcoholic beverages’ (soft drinks and fruit juice) and ‘cereal and cereal products’ (mainly cakes and biscuits) with ‘alcoholic beverages’ providing a further 7-9% of intake.

Mean intakes of saturated fatty acids as a percentage of food energy continued to exceed recommendations in all ages over the period covered.

The evidence indicated low intakes for some vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin A and iron) in a proportion of participants, particularly in those aged 11 to 18 years.

Around a fifth of adults aged 19 to 64 years had low blood levels of vitamin D.

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation said that food and drink producers were taking steps to help customers towards dietary goals, lowering calories from sugars and fats in their products, capping portion sizes, and adding key nutrients such as iron and fibre. “We need a national push involving all parties with a stake in improving public health to bring about positive change to whole diets.”

Last month campaigners slammed the government's obesity strategy.

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