Health Minister launches anti-obesity strategy, but lack of targets criticised

(Title Image: Welsh Government, Crown Copyright)

Yesterday, the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), went through the Welsh Government’s new 10-year anti-obesity strategy Healthy Weight, Healthy Wales (pdf).

In summary, by 2030 the Welsh Government expects to have:

  • Made healthier food more widely available, including a promotional campaign for healthier foods (to compete with less healthy options), more healthy options in vending machines, a ban on advertising food high in salt, fat and sugar in public places and improved labelling.
  • Considered possible tax options if advertising clampdowns don’t work.
  • Banned the sale of energy drinks to young people and limited the number of takeaway outlets near schools.
  • Created environments to encourage exercise, including the wider use of 20mph speed limits and continued support for active travel schemes.
  • Introduced stricter nutritional guidelines for schools and the NHS, as well as having ensured food is included in the new curriculum, with all primary schools also introducing daily physical activity.
  • Ensure all expecting parents have information about healthy life choices with enhanced support in communities with the biggest health inequalities.
  • Introduced a clinical-led obesity treatment pathway and a diet-based approach to reducing Type 2 diabetes.

A complex issue

The Minister said obesity was “a complex issue” with many contributing factors and its impacts are disproportionately felt in Wales’ poorer communities. The proposals were developed off the back of a consultation which involved 1,000 people and presents a 10-year vision to make healthy choices the easier choices.

No targets will be set, but progress will be monitored:

“I have previously stated that we will not set superficial targets and that the strategy is focused on delivering outcomes. To supplement the strategy, we’ll publish an outcomes framework in the new year, which will help us to monitor and track change. We’ve begun to explore new data sources to develop this work. This will provide us with a range of indicators that are linked to behavioural change.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) gave the new strategy a guarded welcome but was somewhat surprised by the lack of references to personal responsibility. Instead, the emphasis was on what the government, communities and healthcare professionals can do. We all had to do our bit to control our weight.

She also stressed the importance of exercise and asked what discussions have been had on increasing the amount of physical activity in schools? The Minister (somewhat cheekily) called back to comments Angela made the last time this was discussed that “not everyone enjoys sport”.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) described obesity as “an emergency”, adding that there’ve been calls for things like advertising crackdowns and planning changes for years with very little happening – plus some measures are currently non-devolved.

“I think the Government needs to get real and tough about food and drink legislation and start to view food and drink companies…. a bit like we view big tobacco. Let’s not have any more volunteering or voluntary agreements. Let’s legislate….I know there’s a sugar tax, but we have very little control over it. We need to have control over it here so that we can spend what comes from the sugar tax here in Wales on what we want to do in the obesity agenda.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM

The lack of targets disappointed Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) as there had to be clear monitoring of things like exposure to junk food advertising and how public procurement was being used to address obesity.

Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) added that there was a risk of the strategy resulting in everyone having a role but nobody having direct responsibility. She also called for obesity reduction targets.

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