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NHS chief urges tougher food labelling post-Brexit to tackle obesity

Studies show 70% of the millennial generation are predicted to be overweight or obese by the time they reach the ages 35 to 45.

The head of NHS England has called on the Government to introduce tougher food labelling post-Brexit in a bid to tackle the UK’s growing obesity crisis.

Speaking at the Diabetes UK Conference in London, Simon Stevens said that after Britain quits the EU, the Government could no longer claim its “hands are tied” by EU regulations.

Mr Stevens said much more action would be needed if the Government was going to meet its target of cutting 20% of added sugar in children’s diets by 2020.

He stressed the problem the nation’s ever-growing obesity crisis was posing to the NHS, with obesity levels rising even faster than the US and with 70% of the millennial generation predicted to be overweight or obese by the time they are aged 35 to 45.

This figure compares with 50% of the baby boom generation who were overweight or obese when they reached the same age.

If we are going to take back control of our regulations then let’s take back control of the fight against obesity Simon Stevens

Mr Stevens said that new research from Public Health England revealed that 82% of the population now thought the Government should be doing more to ensure manufacturers develop low-calorie products.

He said that clearer calorie labelling could slash the nation’s sugar intake by 12% and said Brexit could be a chance to tighten up labelling laws.

Mr Stevens said: “We are obviously going through a big debate about what the future of this country will look like after we leave the European Union.

“One of the flexibilities it would be good for the NHS to see being given careful consideration would be whether we can use our post-Brexit regulatory arrangements to take a more assertive stance on food labelling and other interventions that we know are going to help cut obesity.

“Hitherto the argument had been that our hands are tied on some of these matters but if we are going to take back control of our regulations then let’s take back control of the fight against obesity.

“If we do that we are not only going to see big improvements for diabetes, we are going to see big improvements for other major conditions as well.”

Mr Stevens said that if obesity levels could be cut it would dramatically improve not just the number of diabetes cases, but also cancer levels, as obesity is the second biggest cause of the disease.

He added that only 15% of people were aware that being obese increases your risk of cancer.

He did not elaborate on what changes he wanted to see, but Robin Hewings, head of policy at Diabetes UK, said mandatory “traffic light” labelling on food products as well as front-of-packaging nutritional guidelines had been proven to be effective.

Mr Hewings said Diabetes UK also hoped to see a ban on junk food advertising not just during children’s television programming but also during family viewing time for programmes marketed to a number of age ranges, as well as to a limit to the number of fast food outlets granted licences close to schools.

On Tuesday, it emerged that a £40 million flagship diabetes prevention programme had had better-than-expected results, with participants losing an average of 3.3kg through a programme of activities and diet advice classes.

Diabetes and associated problems cost the NHS £6 billion each year to treat and one in six patients in hospital has the disease, according to NHS England.

Mr Stevens also confirmed that £40 million of funding would be available for the second year of the NHS’s transformation programme to help it improve and upgrade local services to treat the growing diabetes problem.

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “We’d hoped to have confirmation that this funding would continue, and enable local services to continue making improvements to the care they provide, so today’s announcement is great news for people living with diabetes.”

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