Leeds health campaigners fear a new Government strategy to tackle childhood obesity will “fail a generation”.
The Government has been accused of “watering down” the long-awaited plan, which does not include curbs on junk food advertising despite repeated calls from campaigners.
Instead, the strategy favours a voluntary scheme for the food industry to reformulate children’s products to reduce sugar.
The reaction has forced senior Government officials to deny reports that Prime Minister Theresa May removed the strongest proposals in a bid to spare businesses from new restrictions post-Brexit.
Paul Gately, professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Beckett University, said obesity costs the NHS £6.1billion but Government invests only around £30million a year tackling it. He said: “This stark difference is so significant and for me, this is a strategy of inaction, not action.”
As part of the plan, ministers hope the food industry will cut 20 per cent of sugar from children’s foods by 2020, with a five per cent cut in the first year.
Government officials said they opted for a voluntary sugar reduction scheme so the food industry could start taking steps immediately, rather than waiting for changes in the law.
The already announced sugar tax on soft drinks will also come into force from 2018 as well as moves to encourage school pupils to become more active.
Public Health England will review whether enough progress on sugar is being made to consider “whether alternative levers need to be used”.
Barbara Dinsdale, of Leeds-based national charity Heart Research UK, added: “This strategy will fail a generation. Government has used it to side-step its duty.”