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Duncan Selbie's Friday message - 5 July 2019

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Food and drink aimed at children and young people 

What children eat in their early years is crucial in shaping their future food preferences and can impact their health later in life. Last week PHE published an evidence review of commercially available foods and drinks aimed at children up to 36 months old. The main findings show clear inconsistencies between national infant feeding advice and how some products are presented, such as foods being marketed as healthy snacks having the highest sugar content and, in some cases, containing as much as confectionery. Snacking food accounts for 34.5% of infant food market spend with the most sugar found in fruit and vegetable based finger foods. Of the 1,120 baby food and drink products reviewed for the report, more than 1 in 4 (28.1%) are targeted at 4 month olds despite advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) that introducing solid foods should not happen until around 6 months of age.

In response, our evidence review recommends that the food industry and Government improves the nutrient content of products, ensures that clear, honest and consistent labelling is used in marketing and restrict the implied health claims on baby food products. The full report and recommendations can be read here.

Sugar reduction

PHE’s national diet, obesity and physical activity team received a Best Practice award from the EU Commission for their work on the sugar reduction programme. The award-winning case study was presented at the Vienna Food System’s Conference and to EU member states in Brussels. A well deserved recognition and congratulations to all involved.

Smoking in England

Smoking in England is in terminal decline and a smokefree generation is now in sight, with new data this week showing the number of adult cigarette smokers in England for 2018 is down to 5.9 million, a decrease of 1.8 million from 2013. This means the prevalence of adult smokers in England was 14.4% last year, the lowest ever and this is really positive news in the battle against the nation’s biggest killer.

The picture is complex with the lowest rates among over 65s and the fastest reductions among 18 to 24s, while adults aged 25 to 34 were most likely to smoke (19%). Smoking rates remain stubbornly high amongst people on lower incomes and those experiencing mental health problems and every effort and means to support them quitting is where we need to most focus. You can read more in our blog.

Getting children moving

The latest Change4Life 10 Minute Shake Up campaign started this week, led by PHE and Disney UK with support from Sport England. This fabulous campaign aims to get two million primary school aged children more active by playing games inspired by leading Disney characters including Toy Story 4, Frozen, The Incredibles 2 and The Lion King. The games help children to develop and practice the skills they need to build up key physical attributes of strength, stamina and agility.

Shake Up games packs are being delivered to over 16,500 schools across England with resources available to download for teachers from the School Zone. Local authorities, the NHS and partners will be able to order and download a range of digital and print assets from the Campaign Resource Centre.

Antibiotic resistance

The threat of antibiotic resistance (AMR) continues to grow. A world without antibiotics is one where 3 million common procedures such as caesarean sections and hip replacements could be life-threatening, and patients with complex conditions are put at further risk. AMR bloodstream infections rose by an estimated 35% between 2013 and 2017, and we are seeing an increasing number of infections that are not responding to antibiotics of last resort.

As part of efforts to combat this, PHE has been awarded £5.1 million by the Department of Health and Social Care to advance our work on AMR. This work will have three strands including building a unique linked infection and AMR dataset, a novel mobile modular hospital ward facility to study how the environment can reduce healthcare-associated infection and a new research laboratory facility to identify and evaluate novel therapies to treat infections. This new linked dataset will help clinicians understand when to use antibiotics and aims to improve the antibiotic treatment so that patients receive the right treatment for them first time.

Reducing over-prescribing in people with learning disabilities

The PHE Board recently heard from people with learning disabilities on their priorities for improving their health. They gave a powerful presentation which was a reminder of the health inequalities which continue for them and the potential for changing that. An example of this is in reducing over-prescribing and a study published last month spoke to the success in Cornwall in completely withdrawing psychotropic medication to 46.5% of people with learning disabilities. This was in response to the STOMP campaign run by NHS England and informed by a PHE report which sets out the extent of over-prescribing. You can learn more here.

Stillbirth and infant mortality

In March this year PHE published a stillbirth and infant mortality tool, designed for planners and commissioners working in local government, clinical commissioning groups and across local maternity systems. It uses available data and evidence, broken down to local area level, to model estimates of the possible effects of various factors on infant mortality and stillbirth and can help with the prioritisation of services and addressing risk factors. After receiving and acting on feedback, a new version of the tool went live this week and can be found here.

Best wishes, Duncan

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  1. Comment by Mary E Black posted on

    PHE's work on infant and early childhood food content, labelling and marketing: outstanding.