Tackling Childhood Obesity : Locally and Nationally

What does the future hold?

The UK Government have announced that tackling obesity is one of ‘the greatest long-term health challenges this country faces’. Today 63% of adults are above a healthy weight and of these half are living with obesity.

This ultimately leads to poor habits learned by our children and carried on into later life. 1 in 3 children leaving primary school are already overweight and 1 in 5 are living with obesity. Locally in Hull around 8000 4 to 11 year olds are currently overweight and obese in the city whilst on a global scale it is estimated that 38 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2019. These figures are truly worrying for our children and for the future pressure this undoubtedly puts on our national health service with a £6.1 billion bill each year from treating obesity related illnesses.

Covid-19 has given us a real wake up call with consistent evidence proving people who are overweight or living with obesity who contract coronavirus are more likely to be admitted to hospital, to an intensive care unit, and sadly to die than those with a healthy BMI.

On 27 July 2020, the Government published ‘Tackling Obesity : Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives’. The strategy includes plans to include calorie information on food from restaurants, cafes and take aways and more precise calorie labelling on products.

Public Health England have also launched a ‘Better Health Campaign’ to urge people to take stock of how they live their lives, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. You can start by weighing and measuring yourself and checking your BMI tool. You can then start your weight loss journey with the free NHS 12 week weight loss plan app.

There are also plans to accelerate the expansion of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme to support people at risk.

As a nation we are consuming and drinking too many calories. Adults are consuming an extra 2-300 extra calories per day on average with children consuming up to 500 calories extra. Over a week this adds up dramatically, imagine that amount over the course of a year!

As human beings we are biologically programmed to eat when we are bombarded by advertisements and promotions for food, it’s hard to eat healthily especially if we are busy , tired or stressed. The Government plans include banning the advertising of high fat, sugar or salt foods being shown on tv and online before 9pm, a time when impressionable children are watching. Evidence shows that exposing children to these adverts can increase the amount of food children eat and shape their preferences from a young age.

It’s been recognised that tackling the problem isn’t just about the individual’s effort but is also about the environment we live in, the information we are given to make choices and what influences these choices.

Children in the most deprived areas of the country, Hull being one of them, are twice as likely to be obese as children living in the richest areas. Just over 17% of children who are overweight or obese live in the fifth most deprived quintile, compared to 9% in the least deprived.

This is sowing the seeds of adult diseases and health inequalities at a very early age. It’s also much harder to make healthy choices if you don’t know what’s in the food you are eating.

The impact this has on our general health and indeed our oral health is evidential. Obesity is associated with reduced life expectancy, chronic diseases, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, liver and respiratory disease and 12 types of cancer.

So can we win this fight????

Sally Davies, in her final report as Chief Medical Officer for England, stated that while the strategies would significantly reduce levels of childhood obesity ‘ if implemented in full’, the implementation of the plans would not, on its own, meet the 2030 ambition. She urged the Government to go ‘further and faster’.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who has fought for years for healthy meal options in schools applauded the ‘bold and forthright’ plans telling LBC Radio it was ‘probably the best bit of news in about ten years’ but with caution he added ‘we’ve got to make sure it lands and it gets done and they deliver it’.

Locally in Hull more than 80 council staff, elected members and partner and voluntary sector representatives were brought together for the first ‘Obesity Mapping Session’.

Claire Farrow, Hull City’s Public Health Lead for Behaviour Change said ‘It’s helped people to understand it’s not just about eating less and personal choices; it Is about where people live and how much they have in their pocket and how they are feeling about themselves’.

Hull Food Partnership and the council is working collaboratively to improve the food offer in schools and to encourage children to eat more vegetables.

Ultimately a lot of our behaviour as infants is shaped by learned habits and carries on into adulthood.

With this is mind, a decision was taken to reframe ‘ childhood obesity’ as ‘childhood healthy weight’ to move away from the stigma of a medicalised view of the issue.

Improving nutrition knowledge of childcare providers will most certainly have a positive effect, promoting healthy eating in schools, setting nutritional standards and encouraging active exercise will all go some way to tackling the issue but ultimately, we have a responsibility to educate our children, lead by example and equip our youngsters with the tools to make healthy choices leading to healthier and happier futures.