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Childhood Obesity Policy in UK


Giving a child a good start in life is a critical public health concern, as the child’s early life experiences and environments shape and determine the inequality in their lifelong health. It makes economic and social sense to develop strategies aimed at improving early development outcomes. Over the years, the United Kingdom has faced the challenge of improving the outcome of child development, especially during early childhood and school transitions. Obesity is the overwhelming public health challenge in the UK. This is one of the most common preventable nutritional problems. The definition of childhood obesity is a BMI of more than 95 percent on the CDC Center’s growth chart. In the last 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity obesity has massively increased (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). To combat obesity, policy changes need to be made at the local, state, and federal levels. Addressing obesity through policies has been given great attention for more than two decades in UK. In 2008 and 2011 there were two formal government policies on obesity that led to range of activities and creation of initiatives to fill the alleged gaps. Childhood obesity policy has been developed by improving previously existing policies. The policy aims at minimizing the rate of childhood obesity within a few coming years. The childhood obesity policy is critically examined on how it tackles obesity at early age as a public health concern.

Evolution of Childhood Obesity Policy

Obesity has been a primary concern in the United Kingdom for more than 20 years. In 2008 and 2011, two formal state strategies for obesity developed new initiatives to bring together actions and close presumed gaps (Croker et al., 2020, p.241). Support for breast – feeding and healthy dieting practices, nutritional standards in schools, restrictions on the sale of fat, sugar, and salt-rich foods to children, initiatives to promote physical activity, active travel plans, and weight management services are just a few of the approaches in place today. According to annual data collected, the rise in obesity has slowed in recent years but has not yet rectified.

Obesity was officially recognized as a potential danger to the country’s health by the British Conservative government in 1991, justifying certain course of action. The aim was to reduce the rate of obesity in adults to 7% by 2005, which would represent a return to the 1980s prevalence (Chapman et al., 2020, p.24). This is part of a larger awareness of the significance of interventions to promote public health, which has resulted in the formation of a task force to investigate strategies to support a healthy eating and regular exercise. Although the suggestions of these groups are highly valued by professionals in the field, they have not been implemented as public policy. Obesity did not return to the political agenda until 1999, as part of Labor’s Saving Life strategy. A Healthier Country, with some specific guidelines revealed, but by 2001, The National Audit Office (NAO), the agency responsible for investigating the value of the UK, reported that the ratio has tripled obesity in the UK over the last two decades (Jebb, Aveyard and Hawkes, 2017, p. 45). It was very critical of the government’s response, which is said to be irregular and inadequate.

Obesity was dubbed a “time bomb” by the administration’s chief medical officer a year later. This was consistent with the findings of a Legislative assembly Health Committee investigation. The Legislative assembly Health Committee held a series of oral evidence sessions, during which scientists and medical professionals were asked for new evidence of obesity’s health risks, as well as specific new guidelines (Jebb, Aveyard, and Hawkes, 2017, p.48). The hearing highlighted key figures from the food industry and other sectors, explained their actions, and revealed the limits of government action to combat obesity. The report’s outcome that children of present era have shorter life expectancies for the first time in more than a century has fueled a surge in media calls for more effective action.

Obesity has elicited a proactive response from the government, with a particular emphasis on children, and new policy measures have recently emerged. As part of an overall strategy to combat obesity in the demography, the National Public Service Agreement (PSA) was announced in 2004 with the goal of halting the annual rise in obesity in children under the age of 11 by 2010. (Pallan et al., 2019, p.950). The Ministry of Health has unveiled a public health strategy that includes a detailed action plan for nutrition and physical activity. Nonetheless, the rate of obesity has risen, and another NAO report found little evidence that the Ministry of Health has projects and strategies in place to improve children’s health and nutrition (Pallan et al., 2019, p.951). This review increased press and public sensitivity of obesity, creating an atmosphere in which the administration felt obligated to take more open and targeted course of action to combat rising obesity levels.

Following the election of a new governing coalition in May 2010, many high-level choices on care and healthcare organizations were made that will have an impact on the continued implementation of obesity programs. Furthermore, the economic downturn and the review of government spending necessitated an overview of the obesity initiative (Selbie, D., 2018, p.26). A new call for obesity behavior, issued in November 2011, emphasizes the importance of individual behavioral change and how the environment can make it extremely difficult for people to maintain good health. It effectively supported state authorities’ and others’ efforts to influence their behavior.

The development of measures to overcome obesity and the eating and physical activity habits that contribute to weight gain has resulted in a patchwork of policies that have evolved over time. The forms of political action have evolved in tandem with strategic approaches. The previous emphasis on leading guidelines setting, such as limitations on the promotion of certain foods to children and mandatory school feeding standards, has given way to a more collaborative approach with partners (Selbie, 2018, p .26). For example, there was a shift to the development of voluntary measures to limit the sale of non-television food products. These activities led to the establishment of childhood obesity policy aimed at addressing the public health concern.

Policy Champions

The creation of childhood obesity policy was a collective effort by various government agencies, private organizations and the parliament. A Legislative assembly Health Commission survey, which held a string of oral scientific proof sessions from scientists and medical professionals about new evidence of obesity health risks, called for specific new policies. In 2005, the Prime Minister launched a Foresight program project with the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser with the goal of developing a long-term solution to obesity using experimental support over the next 40 years (Burton et al., 2019). For example, in October 2007, Foresight released a report with a strong message. It stated that obesity is a highly complicated problem with multiple drivers, the majority of which are not related to the healthcare sector. It has enormous costs for the state and the economy as a whole, and it becomes even worse if a coordinated and integrated approach is not taken (Pazková, Rovillé Sausse, and Molnár, 2017, p.2). Furthermore, obesity was designated as a national issue of the National Health Service (NHS) in the NHS Operational Structure, and the Primary Care Trust and its local partners were to highlight obesity-related actions beginning in April 2008. Many high-level medical and public health organization decisions have been made that have influenced the continued implementation of obesity programs. The collective effort has seen the creation of the childhood obesity policy.

The Policy as an Improvement on Previous Policies

The childhood obesity policy has been developed from previously existing policies. New policies seek to establish objectives for action and to classify appropriate approaches. The National Institute for Health and Care Technology Evaluation established public health and clinical guidelines on obesity, which is outlined in a web-based obesity pathway that includes recommendations for the management of obesity and obesity-related illnesses (Beenstock et al., 2018, p462). The Ministry of Health recently released guidelines on sourcing behavior-based weight management solutions, and other prevention and treatment guidance involves the WHO Infant Growth Chart to promote required weight gain in early childhood, as well as the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations on Lifelong physical exercise.

A significant development was the release of guidance in collaboration with other government agencies, recognises the significance of other policies in combating obesity. For instance, the Ministry of Transportation’s active travel strategy, the Ministry of Education’s Healthy Children’s Program, or the Ministry of Community and Municipal National Planning Policy Framework (Christoffel, 2016, p.841). The latter alerted the Healthy Places Planning Resource of the situation. It discusses how both strategic plan and health professionals can use planning rules and regulations to establish and sustain healthy communities.

Childhood obesity has been designated as a policy priority in the United Kingdom since 1991. Finkelstein and Bilger (2018) described the emergence of obesity policy and activities in the United Kingdom up to 2013, demonstrating that intensive evaluations of efficiency were infrequent, and that the lack of measurable success, despite major resources, reinforces the severity of the situation to society as a whole. Lately, Theis and White (2021) used a conceptual framework and a diligently applied subject analysis technique to examine the UK Government’s obesity policy. According to the analysis, national obesity proposed policies are immensely subject to individual behavior, are replicated with reference to the original policies, and are recommended with little guidelines for execution. Croker et al. (2020) performed a research project of regulatory requirements for preschool obesity in the United Kingdom from a psychosocial standpoint. Bearing in mind that most of the policy action is interested in education, they proposed strengthening upstream policies affecting the food supply system. The significance of socioeconomic trends in childhood obesity has been acknowledged in existing regulations, but it was not the emphasis of their assessment.

Time to Resolve Childhood Obesity, the most recent Chief Medical Officer Report, role of social health determinants in recognizing childhood obesity. Current national childhood obesity policies in the United Kingdom were first published in 2016 in the form of Childhood Obesity: Action Plan, followed by 2018 in the chapter “Children’s Obesity: Action Plan: Chapter 2” (White, 2018, p.60). The 2019 Green Paper “Promoting Our Health: Prevention in the 2020s” included an initial Chapter 3 for public comment. These chapters are collectively termed as policy for convenience. The goal of this policy was to resolve health disparities by significantly lowering the rate of childhood obesity in the United Kingdom and closing the obesity gap between most and least underprivileged children (Ulijaszek and McLennan., 2016). The development of policies to address overweight in children was greatly accepted by public health authorities at the time of publication, but over-focused on changes in individual behavior rather than upstream (secret) intervention. The government focuses on the operational impact of health inequality and poverty on health outcomes, as the plans for Chapter 3 of the policy are underway and can be deferred due to the administration’s focus on pandemic. It is hoped that the purpose of the policy will be revisited and reviewed.

Aim of the Policy

The Childhood Obesity Policy aimed to address health inequality by reducing the occurrence of childhood obesity in the United Kingdom and narrowing the childhood obesity gap. In 2016, the government launched a childhood obesity policy. This is an action plan that includes a number of measures aimed primarily at minimizing sugar intake and improving physical activity in children. In June 2018, an update to the Action Plan was announced, with a major objective of halving childhood obesity by 2030 and closing the gap between children from the most and least disadvantaged families.

The childhood policy sought to impose a levy on the soft drinks industry. Children consume far too many calories, particularly sugar. The British youth are Europe’s biggest consumers of sweetened beverages (Rutkow et al., 2016, p.116). The Scientific Advisory Board on Nutrition (SACN) successfully concluded that sugar consumption raises the risk of burning too many calories, rises the risk of dental caries, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages intensifies the risk of developing diabetes and leads to increased weight in children. One 330 mL can of sugared soft drink (which can contain up to 35 g of sugar) can quickly exceed a child’s maximum recommended daily sugar intake (Gregg et al.,). 2017, p.451). As the first vital step in tackling childhood obesity, this policy aimed to introduce an industry tax on soft drinks throughout the UK. In the UK, income from levies is invested in programs to reduce obesity and encourage school-age children’s physical activity and a balanced diet. This would double the sports and PE, and provide an additional £ 10 million annually to the school’s healthy breakfast club, and provide more children with a healthy start to the day (Gregg et al., 2017, p.452). Barnett’s formula applies to spending on these new initiatives. This is a tax imposed on manufacturers and importers, not on consumers. Its goal is to persuade companies to cut the sugar content of the product and to persuade consumers to choose healthy foods. Producers and importers were given two years to reduce the sugar content of their drinks to avoid taxation if they took action. While many beverage manufacturers have already taken steps to minimize the amount of sugar added to the overall beverage, levies include a stronger incentive to take action.

Furthermore, the policy aimed to reduce the amount of sugar in commodities by 20%. There is indication that gradually stabilizing the recipes of consumables and modifying the size of the product are effective methods of improving nutrition. This is due to the fact that the alteration are global and not based on individual changes in behaviour. As a result, lawmakers have launched a formal and robust sugar reduction strategy to eliminate sugar from the products that children consume the most. By 2020, all sectors of the foodservice industry must reduce total sugar in multiple contributing at least 20% of children’s sugar intake, with a 5% decrease in the first year (Ulijaszek and McLennan, 2016, p .398). This can be accomplished by lowering the sugar content of the product, limiting portion size, or shopping for a low sugar option.

The scheme is managed and implemented by the UK Public Health Service. It is applicable to all industry sectors as well as all foods service that make a contribution to children’s sugar consumption, including those marketed to very young children (Pařízková, Rovillé Sausse and Molnár, 2017, p.2). Progress is reviewed by Public Health England to ensure that performance meets expectations, and PHE publishes a progress report every 6 months. This includes a review of significant reduction attained through sales and food composition data analysis, as well as plans for future reductions. Some businesses are at the forefront of sugar content reduction, and it is critical that they are cognizant of the progress being made. As a result, PHE will base this reduction strategies on 2015 data (Pazková, Rovillé Sausse, and Molnár, 2017). This data is used by the government to ascertain whether adequate progress has been made and whether alternative methods of reducing sugar and calories in children’s food and drink are required. Sufficient progress was made by 2020 and other means are being used to achieve the same goals for further improvement.

Furthermore, the policy aimed to encourage innovations that assist businesses in making their products safer. Policymakers want to encourage next-generation science and technology advancements. It enables the industry to develop healthy and nutritious, more sustainable solutions. In order to support this, Innovate UK hosted a £ 10 million Joint Research and Development Initiative (Griffin et al., 2021, p.451). The newly founded AgriFood Technology Council is a leader in areas such as health and nutrition, as well as consumer perceptions, and the Food Innovation Network brings together food companies, researchers, and innovation support to further leverage world-class R&D. Research and development has led to innovative and sustainable ways of producing healthy foods achieving the aims of the policy.

The policy also emphasized the creation of a new structure through the modifications of the nutrient profile model. There was a need for new ways of determining which foods and beverages are healthier and which are less healthy to assist families in making healthy lifestyle choices. To protect children, existing limitations on food and beverage marketing are centered on a tool known as “nutrition profiling” (Theis and White, 2021, p.128). The sugar content, fat, salt, fruit and vegetables, vegetables, nuts, soluble and insoluble dietary, and protein in each food or drink is assigned a score. The existing nutrient profile is over a decade old and does not reflect real scientific advice, such as SACN findings or recently introduced brands (Theis and White, 2021, p.130). A powerful and reliable framework is required to support all aspects of this plan. Clear processing and production guideline urges businesses to make healthier products to avoid potential sanctions. As a result, PHE is collaborating with academics, manufacturers, public health NGOs, and other interested parties to evaluate nutrient profile models and guarantee they are consistent with the most recent policy dietary guidelines. This was done to make sure that the up to date profile concentrates on the least healthy products rather than product to the end user as health food.

Unintended Consequences of the Policy

Anti-obesity laws, like many other public health regulations, are typically intended to encourage healthy behavior to reduce the general public’s health risks. However, does such an obesity law express values that result in social stereotyping for obese or overweight persons? Indeed, social pressure to comply with weight standards can be significant, especially among adolescents of women in British schools, who are bullied compared to adolescents of normal weight (Burton et al., 2019, p.370). Apart from bullying, it is documented that the stigma of obesity leads to other disadvantages in society. Overweight people face more discriminatory practices than non-obese people and perform worse in fields such as education, occupation, relationship markets, health, and medical services.

Such findings are more significant from a policy standpoint, as overweight incidents have become a significant public health concern in recent years. Obesity rates have risen since the 1980s, raising concerns about the growing population’s health as well as the costs linked to obesity in extremely expensive health-care systems, particularly among children and adolescents (Finkelstein, 2018, p.107). In response, lawmakers proposed a variety of social interventions, including tax collection, nutritional education requirements, and school lunch redesigns. Little is known about the results of stigma, but previous studies evaluated the effect of law on weight loss (Pallan et al., 2019, p.50). Faced with these problems, national, state and local policy makers have called for a “war against obesity.” New initiatives specifically and sometimes very aggressively target childhood obesity.

Critique of anti-obesity campaigns implies that, irrespective of direct incentive schemes or sanctions, such laws may send a message of suitable behavior and appearance. The review focuses on the social approval and stigma encountered by overweight individuals in such laws when determining whether obesity laws change social norms. It is a well-known fact that obese people have been despised in British society for some time and exposed to stereotypes such as laziness, lack of self-control, and lack of intelligence. At school, it is common to hear anecdotes about obese children being victims of abuse and harassment as a result of their weight (White, 2018, p.60). Obese students also express displeasure with their body size in comparison to social ideals. Overweight people, on average, face prejudice at work in the form of tighter wage sanctions and workplace constraints as a result of their weight and appearance. Wage penalties are particularly harsh for overweight white women. Obese patients are also more likely to receive disparaging remarks and negative opinions from practitioners, caregivers, and other health care providers (Selbie, 2018). Given the stereotypes about obesity, it is possible that anti-obesity policies will have a negative impact on their position on the government-desired norms.

Policy Implementation

The analysis found that government’s obesity policy has been proposed mainly in the UK in a way that implementation is not easy. These governments can overcome the evaluation of the previous government strategy and learning from political mistakes. These governments led to adopt less intervention political approaches. The guideline means that the high demand for individual agencies is greatly filled, which means that they are reliant on individuals to create changes in behavior, rather than creating external impact.

Therefore, it is not more effective as an effective or stunning 4 government of political parties. The majority of guidelines regulatory approaches were a Capacity building or restorative. In other words, they focused on the construction of actor’s talented actors. 2020) Government can have a managed, interventional approach. This is recognized as management (so-called breast-nnystate) or lacks knowledge about it, so it is recognized that it will be more intervening measures. Christoffel (2016) emphasized that government interventions have not always reached higher compliance, and high compliance could be achieved without taxation measures such as taxation. This is because it did not meet the conditions required to achieve high compliance.

Regardless of political affiliation, UK governments have majorly prioritized a less interventionist plan to reduce obesity. The vast majority of policy regulation strategies (95 percent) were capacity building or rehabilitative; that is, they aimed at developing the capacity of the responsible actors to deliver, or they respected the responsible actors to reduce population obesity levels, regardless of potential conflicts, such as the food industry profiting from increased food purchases (Croker et al., 2020). Policymakers may have avoided a more interventionist, deterrence-based strategy out of fear of being labeled as controlling (the so-called nanny-state), or because they appear to lack expertise about which more interventionist initiatives were likely to be effective. Christoffel (2016) affirmed that increased government regulation does not always result in increased compliance and that high compliance can be achieved without the use of deterrence policies such as taxation. This could imply that less interventionist strategies deemed to have failed not because they were less authoritarian, but because they did not meet the necessary strategy for achieving high compliance.


With nearly one-third of children below age of fifteen being overweight or obese, managing childhood obesity necessitates collaboration from everyone. Administration, companies, school systems, and the general public all contribute to making food service healthier, as well as encouraging children to choose healthier options. Obesity reduction has clear benefits in terms of preventing and reducing imbalances. The UK government has proposed broad policies to combat obesity, but these policies have yet to effectively and continuously reduce obesity rates or health inequities.


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