Britain's opposition Labour party pledges ban on unhealthy children's food

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour party said on Thursday it would ban unhealthy children's food if they win a national election in May, setting out a hands-on approach to improving public health and reducing the burden on the stretched healthcare system.

Ahead of what is set to be a close election, Labour promised to introduce a range of measures such as introducing plain cigarette packaging, tackling alcohol abuse and regulating what goes into children's food.

"We are setting our clear intention to take robust action to protect children from harm where voluntary measures have failed," Labour's public health spokeswoman Luciana Berger said. The party said it would set maximum limits on levels of fat, salt and sugar in food marketed substantially to children.

An official survey published in December showed that one in three 10 to 11-year-olds in England were overweight or obese, and the percentage of those classified as obese was rising.

The announcement chimes with Labour's central election strategy to campaign against Prime Minister David Cameron on the future of the country's state-funded and much-cherished health system. Polls show Labour is more trusted on the healthcare system than Cameron's Conservatives.

A Conservative spokesman said the Labour plan was "naive" and defended the government's track record on public health.

Labour have already pushed for the government to introduce a minimum price for alcohol and to ban branding on cigarette packaging. They said that without action, the cost to the health system of treating diabetes will to rise to 17 billion pounds (S$34.5 billion) per year by 2035 from 10 billion pounds.