In the UK, almost a quarter of British children are overweight by the time they start primary school, with obesity reaching its highest peak among older children.
About 11.2% of 4 -5 years olds are obese (with a 40 to 70% chance they will become obese adults) and 12% of toddlers remain overweight. Children from poor families are disproportionality affected by obesity. Diet related ill health costs the NHS £5.8billion every year with childhood obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and asthma in England costing £51m per year. This is before we begin to consider the mental health illness that will emerge.
So why isn’t the obesity issue sorted? Here are my top four reasons:
1. Obesity is caused by us allowing children to become addicted to sugar by adding it to everything from soup to fruit juice.
2. Our economy depends on us advertising and selling these sugary goods and the immediate profit is more important than long term costs.
3. More children from poor families are affected and no one cares.
4. The Government approach does not weave, legislation, taxation, education and behaviour change into a helpful and robust strategy.
This may seem a bit harsh but for those of us working with small children, it’s a reasonable assumption. Sadly, we are rarely considered in the national debate but we spot the issues very early and can often create conditions for improvements called ironically enough, early intervention. Young children are very quickly affected by adult decisions.
Of course, there is no easy solution to tackling obesity. It requires a complete systems approach where each of the contributing factors can be addressed by the most effective means. We certainly need more than the Government’s super slim child obesity strategy. There needs to be a national coherent, connected and well communicated strategy shaped around:
· Physical Exercise
· Behaviour Change
In 2007, we used legislation to ban the advertising of high-fat, salt or sugar foods (HFSS) during children’s TV programmes and last July, the Government extended this ban to online advertising. Both were aimed at children including stopping cartoon characters and celebrities popular with children to advertise unhealthy options. Sadly, it has only been effective on a small proportion of the ads children see.
More recently, headlines about the proposed ban on sweets and confectionery from supermarket checkouts will …