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Sweets and fizzy drinks to be sold in cigarette-style plain packaging

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Sweets and fizzy drinks to be sold in cigarette-style plain packaging

Sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks will be sold under cigarette-style plain packaging under plans revealed today.

To combat the obesity epidemic, Cadbury, Walkers Crisps, Coca-Cola and other major brands would be forced to abandon their vibrant designs.

Instead they would be compelled to use a uniform drab design intended to put off consumers. This would be in line with the greeny brown colour – chosen for its ugliness – seen on cigarette packs.

To combat the obesity epidemic, Cadbury, Walkers Crisps, Coca-Cola and other major brands would be forced to abandon their vibrant designs. Instead they would be compelled to use a uniform drab design intended to put off consumers

The plans were backed last night by Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, who wants them to form part of her anti-obesity review. She said: ‘These proposals learn lessons from tobacco control and have potential to be part of the solution to the obesity crisis.’

Simon Stevens, who is chief executive of the NHS, said last week that obesity was becoming the ‘new smoking’.

The proposals from the Institute for Public Policy Research, an influential think-tank, also include:

  • Extending the sugar tax on soft drinks to sweets and cakes as well as milkshakes;
  • A ban on day-time TV adverts for junk food, sweets, soft drinks and processed food;
  • Free fruit for pupils and a ban on fast-food outlets within 160 metres of school gates;
  • Supermarkets to be ordered to provide cookery lessons;
  • Raising the legal age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21.

Health campaigners made a separate call last night for cartoon characters to be banned from packs of junk food aimed at children.

They cited a study that found half of 526 food and drink products using cartoons are needlessly high in fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt.

The IPPR says schools could be provided with the free fruit and veg from so-called ‘wonky’ produce rejected by big supermarkets. This could cost £300million a year.

It adds that plain wrappers and TV advertising restrictions on unhealthy food and drinks would reduce heart attacks and diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Plain packaging would put such products ‘on a level playing field with unbranded fruit and vegetables’. The authors believe this would encourage shoppers to buy an apple or banana instead of a Twix, Mars bar, Kit Kat, crisps or Doritos.

Critics of such measures as the sugar tax say they hit the poor unfairly and represent ‘nanny state’ meddling.

But the IPPR points out that curbs on tobacco adverts, plain packaging and a crackdown on smoking in public places have slashed the numbers of smokers. They claim similar action would cut the numbers consuming too much sugar.

Under existing laws, cigarettes must be sold in standardised green packaging bearing graphic warnings such as SMOKING KILLS. The IPPR report does not suggest similar stark warnings about the dangers of eating too much sugar, but some may conclude it could be the next step.

Pressure for a sugar tax on sweets and cakes follows the imposition of the tax on sugary drinks last year that put the price up by between 18p and 24p a litre – 8p for a can of Pepsi. It raised more than £150million for the Treasury in its first six months.

The report does not say how the sugar tax would affect the price of sweets and snacks.

But if levied at a similar rate to the tax on sugary drinks it could mean an 8p rise in the price of a chocolate bar or bag of crisps. An increasing number of health experts say such measures are essential to tackle the obesity crisis.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who is bidding to be Tory leader, has vowed to tackle the issue and suggested parenting classes to combat child obesity. Treasury minister Liz Truss mocked tax hikes or curbs on sweets and fast foods as ‘neo-Puritanism’.

The IPPR says the TV ban on junk food ads would apply up to the 9pm watershed; income from the new sugar levies would be used to build sports centres; and community cooking lessons would be funded by a levy on supermarket profits.

Tom Kibasi, IPPR director, said: ‘It’s time to end the pro-obesity supermarkets by putting fruit and veg on a level playing field with crisps and confectionery. Plain packaging would reduce the hassle of “pester power” for busy parents.’

The report states: ‘We must reduce the visibility and availability of harmful food products whilst increasing relative cost.’

It says the Government ‘must intervene to shape the social and commercial determinants of health. We have done this effectively for smoking and alcohol through high levies and regulations on sales and advertising. We have made less progress on obesity, food products and exercise’.

It adds: ‘Advertising is rife, with up to £143million spent on adverts for crisps, confectionery and sugary drinks. Junk food can be purchased by anyone regardless of age. There is no restriction in what can be sold in the vicinity of schools.’

Dame Sally has said she aims to halve the levels of childhood obesity by 2030. More than 20,000 primary school children were classed as obese when they left school last year.

‘I want parents to be incentivised to buy healthy food,’ she said. ‘We need to make sure that fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap. Maybe we have to subsidise them by charging more, by taxing unhealthy food. Parents are then nudged to buy the healthy version because it’s cheaper.’

Health campaigners made a separate call last night for cartoon characters to be banned from packs of junk food aimed at children

The call for action over cartoon characters was made by Action on Sugar, Action on Salt and the Children’s Food Campaign.

Their study found that some products using popular TV and film characters, for example, Peppa Pig Candy Bites, are 99 per cent sugar.

Dr Kawther Hashem, of Action on Sugar, said: ‘It’s shocking that companies are exploiting the health of our children by using cartoon characters on their high sugar food and drink products, particularly on chocolates and sweets, which are already hard to resist for children.’

But Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘All foods, when consumed in moderation, can play a part in a healthy diet.

‘In accordance with recommendations by the Chief Medical Officer, all major supermarkets provide clear traffic-light nutritional labelling on the front of their own brand products to allow consumers to make an informed choice about the food they buy. We believe banning all cartoon characters would be an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach.’

Tim Rycroft, of the Food and Drink Federation, said manufacturers were playing their part in tackling obesity.

He added: ‘Companies have been voluntarily reformulating their products to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt, as well as limiting portion sizes.

‘The rules on advertising to children have been voluntarily tightened and extended; and many new healthier options have been developed.’

More than HALF of food and drinks aimed at children that use cartoon characters are too high in fat, sugar or salt 

Junk food manufacturers are using children’s cartoons to manipulate parents into buying unhealthy foods and drinks, campaigners have warned.

More than half of products that use child friendly packaging are ‘unnecessarily’ high in sugar, fat or salt, a nutritional review has found. 

Pressure is now growing to stop the tactic, with Labour’s deputy leader calling for the ‘unacceptable’ practice to be banned entirely.

Action on Sugar and Action on Salt said using animated characters on junk food encourages children to pester parents into buying them.

One of the worst offenders was Morrisons Dolly Mixtures which had 65g sugar per pack – almost treble the recommended daily intake for children. 

Peppa Pig Candy Bites – which feature the talking animal beloved by young children – were 99 per cent sugar.

Cartoon branding was only present in a handful of ‘healthy foods’, including fruit, veg and water, the research discovered.

Food manufacturers are using cartoon characters and mascots on their packaging to manipulate parents into buying junk food, campaigners warn

The worst offenders included Morrisons Dolly Mixtures (left) which had a whopping 65g sugar per pack and Peppa Pig Candy Bites, which are made up of 99 per cent sugar and have 12 grams of it in each tube

Researchers from the campaign groups – based at Queen Mary University of London – reviewed 526 food and drink products with child friendly packaging.

They found just 18 per cent of the products were ‘healthy’ – whereas 51 per cent of items were high in sugar, fat, saturated fat and/or salt.

One in five (21 per cent) used licensed characters such as – Disney, Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol. 

More than a third (37 per cent) were found on confectionery, chocolate, cakes and ice cream.

And 34 per cent of products using licensed characters had a red label for either high fat, saturated fat, sugars and/or salt. 

A bag of Cheetos Cheese, accompanied by an image of their Cheetah mascot, was loaded with 19.5g of fat and 2.8g of salt – more than the entire daily recommended amount for children aged four to six. 

Heinz’s tins of Pasta Shapes in tomato sauce targeted young children by slapping characters from Thomas the Tank Engine, Minions and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on its packaging.

Each can serves up 0.8g salt, nearly half of the maximum recommended intake for a child under four, without taking into account additions such as toast and cheese.

In comparison, a product with plainer packaging such as Asda’s Spaghetti Loops in Tomato Sauce contain a third less, at 0.52g salt per can.  

A bag of Cheetos Cheese, promoted with an image of their Cheetah mascot on the packaging, has 2.8g of salt – the entire recommended daily amount for four to six year olds- and almost 20g of fat

Peperami Tex-Mex Snack Pack – with  its cartoon mascot wearing a Mexican sombrero – has 1g of salt and 10g of fat per stick. Heinz’s Pasta Shapes target young children with Thomas the Tank Engine on its packaging. Each can serves up 0.8g salt, nearly half of the maximum recommended intake for a child under four

Tom Watson MP and deputy leader of the Labour Party said: ‘This research reveals the scale of irresponsibility in the industry. 

‘We’re in the midst of a child obesity crisis and companies are using cartoons to advertise their junk foods to kids. 

‘It’s unacceptable. It’s time we changed the rules to get these cartoons off our packs.’

Barbara Crowther, of the Children’s Food Campaign, said using beloved characters on packaging encourages children to pester their parents into buying them.

She added: ‘Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and all the food brands know how much power these cartoon characters have on children’s preferences. 

‘Parents tell us how their kids’ favourite characters result in pestering for sweets, snacks and fast foods, and they overwhelmingly support the idea of a ban. 

‘The food industry has had every opportunity to act, but this research clearly shows it’s not enough. 

‘It’s time for the Government to step in, and underpin tighter advertising restrictions with similar rules for packaging and promotions.’  

Dr Max Davie, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said manufacturers were deliberately manipulating customers.

He added: ‘Using cartoon characters on food packaging makes products highly attractive to children.’

Dr Davie warned it is ‘irresponsible and exploitative’ of companies to use such manipulative marketing techniques. 

Last year a leading group of MPs called for the same ban to curb surging childhood obesity rates.

The Health and Social Care Select Committee called for a blanket ban on cartoon characters being used to promote foods high in fat, sugar or salt on broadcast and non-broadcast media. 

Public Health England recommends children aged seven to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day – the equivalent of six sugar cubes.

Children aged four to six should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (five sugar cubes).

Kinnerton Paw Patrol 6 Mini Chocolate Bars contain 60 per cent sugar and 17 per cent saturated fat. Just one 12g chocolate bar would provide a four to six year old with over a third of their maximum daily recommended intake for sugars

There’s no guideline limit for children under the age of four, but it’s recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it. 

The maximum recommended amount of salt for children is less than 1g of salt a day for babies under one years old.

It is 2g for children aged one to three; 3g for youngsters aged four to six; 5g for those aged seven to ten; and 6g for those aged 11 and older.  

The study also revealed the ‘majority’ of products did not have ‘traffic light’ nutrition labelling, making it difficult for people to work out at a glance what is healthy.  

Sonia Pombo, campaign lead at Action on Salt, said: ‘Parents want to make healthy choices for their children, but companies are not making this easy for them. 

‘The food industry has a moral duty to stop putting profits first and sell their products responsibly. 

‘There is plenty of opportunity for companies to either reformulate and make their products healthier, or make their already healthier products more appealing to children. 

‘Until then, the government must intervene and ensure all food and drink manufacturers at least display “traffic light” labelling so parents can see, at a glance, what is in the food.’ 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week called on England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, to prepare an urgent report by September on how best to help children lose weight.

Some 29 per cent of children aged two to 15 are now overweight or obese in England, with 16 per cent of them being obese.

The Government has committed to trying to cut this figure by half before 2030. 

The Government’s childhood obesity action plan was first published in 2016 and set out measures which could help slim the nation’s children.

One of its flagship measures, the sugar tax on soft drinks, has already begun and raised £154million in its first six months – the money will be reinvested in sports and breakfast clubs at schools.

Other initiatives include encouraging food and drink companies to reduce their sugar content by 20 per cent.

Food for sale in government-run buildings including leisure centres will be made healthier, and primary schools will make sure children get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day between lessons.

And low income families will continue to get Healthy Start vouchers for milk and fruit and vegetables, under the Government plans.

The Government is also considering banning energy drink sales to children and stopping junk food being advertised before 9pm.

Childhood obesity has risen since the 1990s, with 25 per cent of children between two and 15 being overweight or obese in 1995, the lowest in 14 years.

While the proportion of children who were fat hit its peak in 2004 when it was higher than a third at 34 per cent.

The figure was continuously higher than 30 per cent from 2001 to 2011 and again in 2014.

Children who are obese are more likely to be fat adults and thus be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer. 

‘We must stop destroying the lives of our children’ 

By Lord Darzi

For the past 30 years, I’ve worked as a cancer surgeon in the NHS and I know prevention is better than cure. Just ask any patient or their family.

Far too many people attending St Mary’s Hospital in central London, where I work, could have avoided the trauma and upset of ill health if we’d intervened earlier to help them lead healthier lives. That is heartbreaking.

We now know more than ever before about what causes cancer – from tobacco to red meat. Yet we still have a national sickness service, not a national health service. It’s still too easy to be unhealthy, and too hard to make the healthier choice.

Today, as many as two in five NHS patients wouldn’t need our help if they had led healthier lives. The cost of illness arising from poor diets, too much alcohol and smoking tobacco costs the NHS in England more than £11billion a year. As our society ages, we can’t afford to go on like this.

But the biggest challenge is obesity. Childhood obesity continues to rise. While obesity rates in middle-class communities are falling, obesity rates are rising for the poorest kids. It is a national scandal that we now see cases of children with diabetes caused by obesity.

It is good that the Government and the NHS have said that prevention is a top priority. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said it’s the best hope for a ‘happier, healthier future’. But our policies must now go much further than ever before.

That’s why I’ve been working with the Institute for Public Policy Research to come up with a fresh plan to tackle the public health crisis head on.

Our plan says that we need dramatic action across society. It simply isn’t good enough to keep repeating the old mantra of individual responsibility when we face a public health emergency. The blame culture might feel good for some, but it isn’t working. We need a smarter approach. We need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices. It’s time to make doing the right thing the right thing to do.

There’s little point preaching about individual responsibility when high streets are stuffed full of junk food outlets. In the poorest communities, there are up to five times as many fast food outlets as in wealthier areas. The food industry spends 30 times more money trying to get people to eat food that’s bad for their health than the Government spends promoting healthy eating. The supermarkets promote highly processed foods – laced with sugar, fat and salt – at ultra-low prices. When the food industry spends millions to persuade us to eat poorly, it’s nonsense to pretend this is just about individual free will.

We need to tackle obesity just like we took on smoking. Smoking rates have more than halved over the past 50 years and we need to similarly cut obesity rates.

In the IPPR plan, we propose introducing plain packaging for all chocolate, sweets and other confectionery along with crisps and sugary drinks. This would put it on a level playing field with fruit and vegetables, which usually have limited branding with see-through packaging – and so would reduce temptation for shoppers, especially children, attracted to the bright colours and images of cartoon characters.

More than that, it would make the millions spent by corporations such as US giant Kraft (owner of Cadbury) simply pouring money down the drain.

Plain packaging would begin to change the behaviour – and the scale – of the sugar industry, just as our measures against smoking have had an impact on the tobacco industry. To support this further, we should stop companies advertising unhealthy foods on TV, especially those aimed at children, before the 9pm watershed.

At the moment, a staggering 4.5million tons of ‘wonky’ fresh fruit and vegetables are wasted every year for cosmetic reasons. These should be given to local schools to provide free fruit and vegetables for pupils. We want to help people to cook healthy meals at home, so we also propose a new levy on the profits of the largest supermarkets to fund the provision of community cooking classes.

As our politicians argue constantly about Brexit, they’ve ignored the health of the nation. For two decades, preventable illness and deaths declined. But as the IPPR has shown, this progress stopped in 2012.

If we had maintained it, then some 130,000 deaths could have been prevented. We don’t need nannying – but we do need a return to eating what our grandparents would have recognised as ‘real food’, not eating too much of it, and to a diet with more fruit and vegetables and less highly processed junk.  

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