More cash urged to fight obesity
Councils have warned they cannot afford to tackle the growing obesity "epidemic" in England Wales unless the next government releases £1 billion for local investment.
A report published by the Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for a fifth of VAT raised on unhealthy foods such as sweets, crisps, takeaways and sugary drinks to go back to councils to fund free leisure activities and health awareness campaigns.
The LGA insisted councils currently do not have enough money in their public health budgets to properly cope with the obesity crisis once mandatory services such as sexual health, which accounts for a quarter of the budget, and drug and alcohol services, which accounts for nearly a third, have been paid for.
Health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the country £5 billion per year, with more than 60% of adults and more than a quarter of children overweight or obese, according to research by the Department of Health.
Local government leaders argue investing in prevention at a local level is vital to ensure its residents are healthy and to save the country money in the long run.
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA's community wellbeing board, said: "We are talking about an epidemic"
"This slice of existing money would enable local authorities to do so much more to reverse the tide of obesity which threatens to make the next generation the first to live shorter lives than their parents.
"Councils are doing everything they can to curb obesity at a local level. This extra money would enable them to ramp up their efforts and really make a major impact on tackling this condition.
"Additional resources would enable local councils to respond to the specific health and social care needs of their communities in ways that they know will be effective."
Releasing a fifth of the VAT budget raised from sugary foods to local councils would create around £1 billion of extra funding, the LGA said.
The LGA's report 'Investing in our nation's future' sets out what powers it believes the next government should devolve to councils in the first few months following May's general election.
A Government spokesman said: "There are no plans to introduce a sugar tax. The Government has provided £8.2 billion over three years for councils to deal with public health issues, including tackling obesity.
"Ultimately councils are responsible for their spending decisions and that's why we have given them greater financial independence so they can deliver sensible savings. We are already seeing progress being made, with childhood obesity levelling off, and industry working together to make everyday food and drink products healthier."