The head of the NHS has criticised English cricket for letting KP Snacks sponsor a new tournament that is designed to encourage young people to play the game.
Simon Stevens said the deal with the maker of Skips, Hula Hoops and Butterkist would undermine the fight against childhood obesity by persuading children to eat what he described as junk food.
Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, also put himself at odds with Boris Johnson by enthusiastically endorsing the sugar tax, days before a report is due to be published from the government’s outgoing chief medical officer on whether it should be extended from soft drinks to other sweet foods.
Stevens castigated the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for a commercial tie-up under which KP Snacks will sponsor the Hundred, a new format of the game launching next year.
“If you think about the extra demand [on the NHS] that is being created through the obesity epidemic, with poor diet now a bigger risk factor for ill health than smoking, it is disappointing … when for example you see the English cricket board doing a deal with junk food aimed at children,” he told NHS leaders at the NHS Providers annual conference in Manchester.
“I would hope when those sorts of deals are being considered in future, people make a different choice … Let’s not see these benefits negated by commercial sponsorship deals that explicitly prompt our kids to fill up with snacks and junk food.”
The Hundred’s shorter format is intended to encourage more children and young people to watch and play cricket. KP Snacks said it was “helping to grow cricket and encourage families to get active”. However, anti-obesity campaigners such as the Obesity Health Alliance and National Obesity Forum have also said a snack producer is not an appropriate sponsor.
Stevens also urged ministers to be “led by the evidence” that the sugar tax works before deciding whether to extend the levy to other products.
Johnson has spoken out against deploying “sin taxes” to help curb consumption of foods high in salt, sugar or fat, and regards such tactics as part of the “continuing creep of the nanny state”. The Department of Health and Social Care recently planned to propose putting a sugar tax on milk products such as milkshakes but dropped the plan after Johnson became prime minister in July.
On Thursday Prof Dame Sally Davies, who has just finished an eight-year stint as the chief medical officer for England, will publish her eagerly anticipated report on whether to extend the sugar tax. It is expected to argue that ministers need to take much bolder action if they are to have any chance of meeting their target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.
Asked at the conference about claims of nanny statism from high up in the government, Stevens replied: “I also think we hear the notion that we should be led by the evidence. And the evidence is going to be set out very soon by the outgoing chief medical officer Sally Davies and I hope that her findings will be taken seriously. And that’s exactly what’s happened. So when you look at the evidence of whether or not the sugar tax has worked, the answer is: it has.”
Public Health England said last month that the sugar tax, announced by George Osborne as chancellor in 2016, had led to a 28.8% cut in the amount of sugar in fizzy drinks.