Supermarkets and manufacturers told to get ‘their house in order’ or face laws to curb high levels of sugar and fat in food
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said he will consider introducing new laws to limit the amount of sugar, salt and fat in processed foods to curb childhood obesity but said he wanted to give supermarkets and manufacturers a chance to get their “house in order” before resorting to legislation.
The comments come after his Labour counterpart, Andy Burnham, announced a consultation on capping sugar and fat levels in food targeted at children. Hunt criticised the former health secretary for failing to tackle the problem while he was in power, and said Labour had left the nation with the highest childhood obesity rate in Europe.
He told ITV News: “My message to the supermarkets and the food manufacturers is that we will of course consider legislation. But we want to give you a chance to put your house in order and make sure that we are not shovelling sugar down the throats of young children and storing up problems for the future.”
A report by the Organisation for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that English children were the third fattest in Europe, after Italy and Greece – but almost twice as obese as the French. Almost 27% of girls in England were overweight and 23% of boys.
The OECD estimated that a comprehensive anti-obesity strategy in England would cost less than £12 per person and save 70,000 lives per year.
Earlier, Burnham said voluntary agreements with the food industry were not working, and that Labour was looking at legal limits setting maximum permitted levels of fat, sugar and salt in food aimed at youngsters, which could include a 30% cap on sugar in cereals.
The shadow health secretary said: “It is clear that the current voluntary approach is not working. We need to open our minds to new approaches in tackling child obesity.
“Labour wants to lead this debate. That is why we are asking the public and experts if new limits for sugar, fats and salts would be the right approach.
“Like all parents, I have bought products like cereals and fruit drinks, marketed as more healthy, that contained higher sugar levels than expected. I don’t think that any parent would be comfortable with their child eating something that is 40% sugar.
“The government has failed to come up with a convincing plan to tackle this challenge.”
Labour cited a report by consumer group Which? last year that found high sugar levels in 32 out of the 50 breakfast cereals it examined, with Kellogg’s Frosties the highest at 37g per 100g.
But the Department of Health said it has helped reduce the levels of fat, sugar and salt in foods. A spokesman said: “By working with industry through the Responsibility Deal we have helped to reduce fat, sugar and salt in foods. There is now less salt in the food we buy, companies are cutting and capping calories and artificial trans fats are being widely taken out of food.
“We are working to reduce the amount of salt in food further, cut saturated fat consumption and we are exploring how to promote healthier food choices more widely. We also want more businesses making pledges so we get bigger results.”