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Obesity: Has the 20-year policy had any effect?



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The Prime Minister has introduced a new obesity policy in England.

This will not be the first attempt to solve the problem ̵

1; since 1997, at least a dozen policies or white papers have been announced on the subject.

So have 20 years of goals and policies had an impact?

Obesity reduction targets

In 2008, an extensive report on obesity focused on improving diet, increasing exercise and personal assistance in tackling the problem.

It has also introduced two key objectives:

  • The United Kingdom would be the first major country to reverse the trend of rising obesity
  • Reduce the level of childhood obesity to 2,000 by 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) measures obesity by determining a sample of people from most countries and looking at their body mass index (BMI) to see if they were a healthy weight for their height.

In 2008, 59.5% of adults in the UK over the age of 18 were overweight or obese.

By 2016, it was 63.7%. This means that at that time, the United Kingdom had the 30th highest proportion of overweight people in the 191 countries.

If we look only at England, the annual health survey for England suggests that 63% of adults over the age of 16 are overweight or obese.

However, this suggests that while the obesity rate has increased significantly since 1993, it has stabilized in recent years.

How has obesity changed over time?

% of population over 16 in England

The second goal was to reduce childhood obesity.

Using a survey of health in England, we can estimate that the proportion of obese or overweight people aged 2 to 10 years in 2018 was the same as in 2000, ie a total of 25%. During the same period, the proportion of overweight aged 11 to 15 years increased from 31% to 34%.

How has childhood obesity changed?

% of overweight or obese children

All of these results are based on surveys, so there is an error rate in the data.

In 2008, the Labor government tried to create a more accurate picture of childhood obesity by measuring almost all children at reception and by the age of 6.

These data show a more sustained increase in childhood obesity than in the health care survey in England.

Childhood obesity by type

% of children in 6 years overweight, England

The coalition-led coalition set its own goals in 2011 in the hope of a permanent decline in childhood obesity by 2020.

We do not yet have data up to 2020, but there does not appear to have been a long-term decline.

Increasing PE in schools

In 2002, the Labor government launched a physical education (PE) policy aimed at connecting local schools with specialized sports schools in their area.

The aim of the program was to achieve that 85% of children do PE or sports for at least two hours a week by 2008.

The government said they had exceeded the target – to reach 86% – compared to an estimated 25% at system launch.

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The scheme was ended in 2010 by the coalition government of the Conservative Liberal Democratic Republic. They also removed the requirement to record how many exercises were done in schools, although they said they expected schools to maintain their current level.

There is evidence that the time spent on PE has decreased in the following years – this was reflected in teacher surveys as well as data on the number of hours taught by trained physical education teachers.

In 2016, conservatives announced that – using money from sugar tax money – funding for sport or PE would increase.

In the same year, their childhood obesity plan also recommended that children do at least one hour of exercise a day, with at least half an hour at school and half an hour supported by parents and carers outside school.

How many exercises do children do?

% of children by different activity levels, England

In 2018-19, it was estimated that less than half of the children met this goal.

Eat 5 days a day

The five – day slogan became government policy in 2003.

Since then, the proportion of adults who consume five servings of fruit and vegetables a day has risen from about 24% to about 28%, according to a survey by the NHS health care in England.

On average, adults ate 3.7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, compared with 3.4 in 2003.

However, the proportion that consumes less than two servings a day remained at about 27%.

Reducing inequality in obesity

The Conservative government’s strategy for childhood obesity was opened by stating that “the burden is most on these low-income children.”

Over the last decade, the gap in childhood obesity between the poorest and richest has widened from 8.5 percentage points to 13.5 percentage points.

Obesity and deprivation

% of children who are obese by the level of deprivation in neighboring England

No specific targets have been set.

Acute obesity varies across England, from more than 75% of all adults in Rotherham, Hartlepoole and Thurrock to less than 45% in Camden and London.

Sugar tax

The United Kingdom introduced a tax on high-sugar beverages in April 2018. Companies must pay:

  • 24p per liter of drink if it contains more than 8 g of sugar per 100 ml
  • 18p per liter of drink if it contains between 5 and 8 g of sugar per 100 ml

This policy was declared successful even before its introduction, because producers changed the recipes of their drinks to avoid paying the tax.

Between 2015 and 2018, the total amount of soft drinks sold containing at least 5 g of sugar per 100 ml decreased, while sales of beverages containing less than 5 g per 100 ml increased by 40%.

The amount of tax paid in each quarter since the introduction of the tax was higher than in the first, indicating that the reduction in sales of sweet beverages did not continue.

Soft drinks industry

Quarterly tax revenue in GBP m

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