Ban eating on the train, says health chief
Dame Sally Davies’s final report before stepping down calls for more taxes on sugary and fatty foods
Eating or drinking on trains and buses should be banned to bring an end to the country’s “mindless” snack culture, England’s Chief Medical Officer has said. In her final report, Dame Sally Davies called for more taxes on unhealthy foods and said chocolate bars and crisps should be in plain wrapping, similar to cigarette packaging. Dame Sally said children were “drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options” that had fuelled a doubling in obesity in 30 years.
EATING or drinking on trains and buses should be banned to bring an end to the country’s “mindless” snack culture, England’s Chief Medical Officer has said.
In her final report, Dame Sally Davies called for more taxes on sugary and unhealthy foods and said chocolate bars and crisps should be in plain wrapping, similar to cigarette packaging.
Dame Sally said children were “drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options” which had fuelled a doubling in obesity in three decades. But critics said her ideas were “the silliest and most authoritarian” yet.
Her proposals include extending the sugar tax to milkshakes and flavoured coffees, and adjusting VAT to target all unhealthy fare. Her report wanted to see levies on snacks unless sugar content was dramatically reduced by 2021.
Dame Sally said “bold action” was needed as children were “flooded with cheap, unhealthy food and drink options”, on average consuming three unhealthy snacks and drinks daily. She proposed an outright ban on consumption of any type of food or drink – except plain water – on all urban public transport. She said snacking in public was being normalised. “Seeing other people eating does prompt you to think about eating,” she said, pointing out that Japan, which has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world, bans snacking on local transport.
“Calories are better controlled if you eat breakfast, lunch and tea or supper rather than eating on the run,” she said.
Her report also called for a calorie cap on café and restaurant meals by 2024. And her review recommended only low-calorie food and snacks low in salt, fat and sugar should be offered at major sports events and concerts.
Dame Sally wanted junk food advertising at such occasions banned, as children were being “dazzled” by advertisements at every turn.
Obesity rates have doubled among children in the last 30 years, with one in three children ending primary school overweight or obese.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, asked Dame Sally for proposals to halve childhood obesity by 2030. Today she said the country was “nowhere near” meeting such ambitions.
Some recommendations put her at odds with Boris Johnson. Before becoming Prime Minister, Mr Johnson warned against “the continuing creep of the nanny state” and said the introduction of a milkshake tax would “clobber” the less well off. But Dame Sally said government had a “moral responsibility” to act, and not put the food industry’s profits first.
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank, said: “The suggestion that it be a crime to eat a sandwich on a train brings Dame Sally’s tenure as Chief Medical Officer to a fittingly authoritarian conclusion.
“In her time in the job, she has become synonymous with the silliest extremes of the nanny state. Her thirst for taxing things is only exceeded by her thirst for banning things,” he said.
The review warns there are 1.2 million obese children in England, with excess weight responsible for up to 120,000 cases of childhood asthma and 650,000 of fatty liver disease. On average, junk food is three times cheaper than healthy meals, her report stated. Mr Hancock said: “We will study it closely and act on the evidence.”