New report hopes to tackle the UK’s childhood obesity problem

A new report published by the Health and Social Care Committee has outlined the issues it believes the government must work on in its updated quest to deal with childhood obesity

The Health and Social Care Committee has published its latest report on childhood obesity, entitled Childhood obesity: Time for action.

The report highlights the issues facing the well-being of British children with regard to food habits and fitness, and discusses what the government is expected to do in order to combat this epidemic.

According to the report, it is estimated that almost a third of children between the ages of two and 15 are classified as overweight or obese, and that younger generations are becoming obese early and staying that way for longer.

The report also states that the situation is worse for children in deprived areas; those aged five years old from the poorest income backgrounds are twice as likely to become obese, and by age 11 it becomes three times as likely. Of course, his is due in part to the gulf of cost differences between clean, healthy food and unhealthy, processed food, as well as lack of access to activities and fitness facilities.

The Health and Social Care Committee’s report focusses on a few key areas which it believes require the most urgent attention; the government is then expected to publish its own updated version of the childhood obesity plan that was first made live two years ago. The key points of the report are:

  • The need for a ‘whole systems’ approach which requires the UK government to change the narrative around the issue and ensure we take responsibility as a nation. It is hoped that a cabinet-level committee will be set up to implement any plans and report back on them, as well as setting serious targets in order to diminish the childhood obesity problem.

  • There should be a 9pm watershed on the advertising of ‘junk’ food and a total ban on having recognisable branded and licensed characters (i.e. ones that children identify with and admire) advertising HFFS (high fat, sugar and salt) products in the media.

  • The government will be called on to restrict discounting and price promotions from the ends of aisles in shops and supermarkets. Advertising HFSS foods near schools should also be restricted.

  • While the soft drinks industry levy has proven successful, the report is urging the government to extend this to milk-based drinks. Fiscal measures should be put in place for the reformation of products where health targets aren’t met.

  • There should be systems in place for identifying and supporting children who are overweight and obese, which can extend to their home life. The report also emphasises the need for a focus on ‘healthy lifestyles’ rather than using any offensive or stigmatising language.

In response to the report, the BMA has stressed that this is an issue which must be addressed as soon as possible. BMA board of science chair, Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, said:

“This new report reflects some of our deepest concerns about childhood obesity. With the UK displaying the highest levels of obesity in western Europe and one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, it’s hard to find families unaffected by this issue which urgently needs addressing.

“The government can rectify missed opportunities by bringing in greater restrictions on how and when unhealthy, sugary, salty and fatty foods are marketed and promoted so children and young people aren’t bombarded with adverts, and we agree with the Select Committee that these measures are needed now.

“It’s also reassuring to see this report call for authorities to have more planning powers to limit the number of unhealthy food outlets and advertising near schools.

“We have warned that cuts to public health services intended to tackle obesity are hitting the most deprived areas hardest; it’s unfair that children are more at risk of obesity as a consequence of where they were born.

“We hope the government will acknowledge it must do everything in its power to turn the tide on childhood obesity in the light of this timely report.”

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