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Advertising ranked top priority for tackling obesity

Restricting advertising of unhealthy foods to children has been ranked as the number one measure the UK Government could take to create a healthier food environment.

Reducing kids’ exposure to the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt topped the list of priorities in a new Food Environment Policy Index (Food-EPI), compiled by an alliance of food and health organisations.

The group, that includes The Food Foundation, UK Health Forum, and World Obesity Federation, said that effective government policies and actions were urgently needed to address the UK’s obesity epidemic, reduce food insecurity, and support sustainable food and farming systems in the UK.

The Food-EPI, which benchmarks government action against measures taken in other countries, is intended to identify and prioritise such policies. Aside from curbs on advertising to children, the experts identified the implementation of the Government’s proposed levy on sugary drinks and measures to reduce the sugar, fat and salt content in processed foods as the greatest priorities.

Measures to apply government food buying standards to all public sector institutions, and to strengthen planning laws to discourage less healthy food offers were also listed in the top ten.

Systems already in place to regularly monitor obesity rates; the existence of national dietary guidelines; and the adoption of food standards in most schools were identified as policy areas in which the UK could be considered a world leader.

However, policies to direct farming subsidies to the production of healthy food; make planning regulations encourage healthy food outlets; and curb advertising in child settings were found to be weak compared with other countries.

The index was published just days after the latest round of national data on childhood obesity rates showed that obesity rates among 5 year olds and 11 year olds are still rising.