Sweets, crisps and sugary drinks need to be put on a level playing-field with fruit and vegetables if the UK is to win the battle against preventable diseases, a leading think tank says today.

They should be wrapped in plain packaging to reduce the numbers of people whose health is jeopardised by consuming unhealthy snacks and fizzy drinks, according to a report by IPPR.

The proposal is among a series of radical measures to combat what the think tank terms the “major risks” of preventable diseases, responsible for over half the disease burden in England and almost one in five deaths. The report also calls an end to day-time TV advertising of confectionary, and for the minimum smoking age to be raised to 21.

It follows research which shows that two decades of progress in reducing the impact of preventable disease on public health – measured in DALYs, or disability-affected life years – has stalled since 2012.

The IPPR report, Ending the Blame Game: The case for a new approach to public health and prevention, identifies smoking, obesity and alcohol and substance abuse as three main contributors to preventable disease.

The report calls for plain packaging on sweets and other confectionary, sugary drinks and crisps, in a challenge to the power of corporate manufacturers. This would create a “level playing field” with unbranded fruit and vegetables and mirrors the action taken against smoking, without affecting the availability of confectionary.

A ban on TV advertising for fast food, soft drinks, confectionary and other processed food before the 9pm “watershed”, with tighter regulation of advertising in public spaces.

Extending the current sugar levy on fizzy drinks to cakes, confectionary and other sweetened drinks, with the proceeds invested in physical education and local sports facilities.

Community cookery classes, paid for by large supermarkets through a levy on their profits.

Raising the legal smoking age to 21, emulating US counties which found that this led to a greater decline in youth smoking – with the aim of creating a smoke-free generation.

Current spending on disease prevention amounts to only 5 per cent of the total NHS budget. The NHS Long-Term Plan published earlier this year makes prevention a core objective and the government has committed to publishing a green paper on prevention soon.

Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, welcomed the plain packaging proposal, saying:

“This new proposal from IPPR learns lessons from tobacco control. It has potential to be part of the solution to the obesity crisis and will be explored in my formal review of childhood obesity.”

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 confectionary. Plain packaging would help us all to make better choices and reduce the hassle of ‘pester power’ for busy parents.



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