Labour have been accused of wanting to “stop mince pies at Christmas”, as the party revealed that it is considering plans to set legal limits on the fat, sugar and salt contents of foods designed for children. Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham has justified the plans by citing the need to tackle obesity to relieve pressure on the NHS. But Conservative MPs have labelled him a “grinch”.
Speaking to Sky News, Burnham said that preventing health problems before they occur was the key to making the NHS sustainable. His ambitions include asking GPs to refer patients to exercise classes in order to lose weight, the Daily Mail has reported. But he also wants to ban sugary snacks for children.
Burnham said: “Personally I would like to look more at exercise and physical activity – making referrals for physical activity from all GP surgeries. If people become more physically active, then they get more control over what they’re eating and what they’re drinking and all the other things.
And he added: “The time has come to look at the food industry. I’ve said many times, I cannot defend the amount of sugar that children are eating. We’ve seen more and more sugar built into our food over time. I’m looking there at a mandatory maximum limit on fat salt and sugar in children’s food. The status quo simply isn’t working. We need to consider more radical action.”
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has reported that in Britain 29 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys were overweight or obese, “storing up serious health problems for the future”.
Anti-obesity campaigners have therefore welcomed Mr Burnham’s comments. Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum said: “Mr Burnham is absolutely right. It’s probably the most important thing for the next government.” He said that “ruinous” levels of sugar in fizzy drinks particularly were causing huge damage to children’s teeth “as well as causing obesity.”
Mr Fry suggested that the food industry be given a grace period of a few years to reduce sugar levels voluntarily before a crack-down was enacted.
Yet the sugar content of sweet foods has been falling continuously since the 1980s, even as obesity is on the rise, suggesting that expanding waistlines are not solely a product of peoples’ diets.
Christopher Snowden, Director of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Public Affairs told Breitbart London: “Sugar consumption has fallen considerably since 1980 and it is therefore difficult to attribute rising obesity to Britain’s sweet tooth. Food companies use sugar in their products for only one reason – people like it.
“Mr Burnham seems to think that the government should pass laws to dictate how our food should taste. This would be meddling on an epic scale and would effectively ban many products that have been on the market for generations.
“Do politicians really think it is their job to tell us what to eat? If so, why not cut to the chase and issue us with ration books?”
Meanwhile Conservative Members of Parliament lined up to criticise Burnham, accusing Labour of simply wanting to ban everything rather than looking for alternative solutions.
David Morris MP said: “Conservatives are taking common sense steps to help people lose weight, but Labour just want to ban things. Andy Burnham is turning into the Grinch who wants to stop mince pies at Christmas. It’s the same old we know best approach from Labour.”
His colleague Philip Davis agreed, saying: “It’s completely ridiculous. It is absolutely nanny state and basically the Labour Party want to use anything as an excuse to interfere in everybody’s lives, and ban them from doing anything they don’t personally approve of.
“It’s a pretty good taste of what we could expect to see if we had the misfortune of a Labour government.”