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MPs demand mandatory calorie labelling

An influential committee of MPs has called on the government to make calorie labelling mandatory in out of home food settings as part of a raft of new measures to tackle obesity.

In a report on childhood obesity published this week, the health and social care select committee noted that current progress on labelling in the UK is reliant on voluntary commitments and is therefore not universally applied.

It said that making calorie labelling at the point of food choice mandatory for the out of home food sector would provide basic information that enables people to make healthier choices.

The committee also called on the government to change planning law to make it easier for local authorities to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas, and to provide further clarity on the extent to which existing powers to reject new applications can be used and enforced.

The committee identified a number of areas that it said require attention when the government updates its childhood obesity plan later this year. These include:

  • a new 9pm watershed on junk food TV advertising;
  • a ban on brand generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote HFSS (high fat, sugar and salt) products on broadcast and non-broadcast media;
  • regulation to restrict discounting and price promotions on unhealthy food and drink products;
  • a ban on confectionery and other unhealthy foods from the ends of aisles and checkouts;
  • an extension of the soft drinks industry levy to cover milk-based drinks.

MPs also called on the government to consult on the adjustment of VAT rates on food and drink after Brexit as a possible measure to tackle childhood obesity.

Chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said it was time for the government to take a “whole systems approach” to tackling obesity. “Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most disadvantaged communities and this unacceptable health inequality has widened every year since records began. The consequences for these children are appalling and this can no longer be ignored.”