The warning follows the recent publication of the Government’s childhood obesity plan, which was today (18 August) praised by the health lobby group Action on Sugar (AoS).
Public Health England (PHE) has been tasked with reducing childhood obesity in the UK through cutting excessive calorie consumption.
PHE’s ‘world-leading’ childhood obesity plan will carry out research on how to remove unnecessary calories in foods most-likely consumed by children, including ready meals, pizzas, burgers, snacks and sandwiches.
AoS campaigners have told The Morning Advertiser (MA) the foodservice sector, including pubs, will be a big focus of PHE’s plans to reduce excessive calorie consumption in children.
The organisation’s campaign director Katharine Jenner said: “All pubs, takeaways, fast food [outlets], cafes and [other] out-of-home [food suppliers] will be included.
'Far behind the retail sector'
“In fact there is an increased emphasis on the whole out-of-home sector, as it is thought to have fallen far behind the retail sector in terms of engaging with public health, taking responsibility for the food they provide and giving healthier options.”
Guidelines to make children’s pub meals healthier was out there, as well as guidance on how pub staff can help customers make the right choices for their children, added Jenner.
“There aren’t any regulations [to make children’s meals healthier in pubs] I am aware of. However, there have long been guidelines – first as part of the Responsibility Deal and now the Healthy Eating Commitments to provide healthier foods,” she said.
“They [pubs] should start [to make food healthier] by looking at the School Food Plan – if meals with taste can be provided within healthy guidelines for children within schools, they can be made within pubs.”
Government has pumped £5m into research to reduce UK childhood obesity. The next phase of its plan will look at where excessive calories are consumed by children, the results of which will be published next year.
Of PHE’s announcement to make further gains on reducing childhood obesity, AoS chairman Prof Graham MacGregor said: “We need a much more robust plan with enforcement of the sugar and calorie reduction targets. At the same time the sugar sweetened soft drinks levy needs to be extended to confectionery, the second biggest contributor of energy intakes in children.
“We must also have watertight restrictions on marketing unhealthy foods to children, with uniform front-of-pack labelling.”
Make food and drink healthier
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls defended the pub trade, highlighting the work it has carried out to make food and drink healthier.
She said: "As evidenced by the sugar reduction programme, the eating and drinking out sector has long been playing its part to promote healthy attitudes to food.
"Crucial to continuing that, though, is to ensure that blanket measures that increase pressures on businesses don't derail ongoing sector innovations to promote healthy lifestyles."
It has long been highlighted that eating out for the vast majority of Brits remains an occasional treat, she added.
"The stated aim to reduce obesity in children, yet this early announcement is unclear as to how – if at all – any targeting would be manifested, so the ALMR looks forward to the publication of PHE's evidence package early next year."
It would be the organisation's priority to ensure the pub trade remained aware of the action they need to take to help reducing child obesity.