Childhood obesity rates set to explode by 2030, flags Children’s Food Campaign
28 Jun 2022 --- UK figures for childhood obesity were supposed to halve by 2030, but predictions reveal that, if current trends persist, childhood obesity will increase 15% among four to five-year-olds and 20% among ten to eleven-year-olds.
This stark warning comes from the Health Disparities White Paper, due to be published soon by the Local Government Association (LGA).
This stark warning comes from the Health Disparities White Paper, due to be published soon by the Local Government Association (LGA). Barbara Crowther, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, and Katharine Jenner, director of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, speak to NutrtitionInsight about what this all means.
“These findings show comprehensively that we’re not just off track in meeting the target, we’re actually moving in the wrong direction,” says Crowther.
“The government has already legislated to stem the tide of junk food marketing to children – now it must stop dithering and delaying and move forward to implement these decisively and quickly,” she continues.
Wake up call for Boris Johnson
The LGA says the coming White Paper could present a crucial chance to turn the tide of this health crisis.
When the government originally set its 2030 goals, only 9.7% of four to five-year-olds and 20.2% of ten to eleven-year-olds were considered obese or overweight. Yet, if this trend continues, one-quarter of all four to five-year-olds in the UK will be overweight or obese, as will over 40% of all ten to eleven-year-olds.
“These stark new projections from the LGA must be another wake up call for Boris and his team to urgently commit to a comprehensive obesity plan which not only prevents obesity but also supports those who are overweight," explains Jenner.
Calls to action
In light of these findings, the LGA is asking for assistance to restrict junk food advertising and for investments in programs that will help with weight management and offer free or reduced-price physical fitness programs, some of which were defunded last year. Jenner affirmed that even ones available “are often limited, underfunded and have extensive waiting lists.”
“The forthcoming Health Disparities White Paper must rise to this challenge and put children’s health first,” adds Crowther. “The government must now set down the 2030 child obesity target in law, making itself accountable for getting healthy weight strategies back on track.”
“No single project or idea will be sufficient. It will need action from very local to national level, supporting all children equally to enjoy healthy nutritious food, whatever their background.”
“They need to take full control with strict measures to include mandatory targets for calories, sugar and salt reduction,” agrees Jenner.
Focus on what works
The Children’s Food Campaign states that councils are asking the government to confirm that funds gained by the soft drink tax are directed exclusively toward the problem of childhood obesity. Jenner and Crowther agree that soft drink tax is the best action that has been taken so far.
“It has demonstrated best practice for both business and for the nation's health, especially those from the most deprived areas,” remarks Jenner.
“The shining light in the obesity strategy so far has been the soft drinks industry levy,” explains Crowther. “It has removed 48 million kg of sugar a year from soft drinks, compared to 2016, while also raising millions of pounds that the government can reinvest into supporting healthier communities.
“Government must not wait a whole extra year to bring in a 9 pm watershed and an online ban on paid-for advertising of high in fat, salt and sugar food and drink by April 2023, or implement the in-store promotions restrictions, but reinstate the original timeline,” continues Crowther.
More steps must be taken
Though Crowther and Jenner both praise the soft drinks tax, they hold that much more must be done.
“We’d like to see a new mandatory program that champions the companies producing healthier food and penalizes those contributing most to dietary inequalities through production and sale of junk food,” states Crowther.
“More levies like the sugary drinks tax could also raise money and support the government to reinvest in local public health initiatives or supporting the lowest-income families to access healthy food.”
Crowther’s call echoes that of David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, who expressed his own worry that today’s obese children will be tomorrow’s unhealthy adults.
”These are concrete steps that are all within this government’s reach and which have the potential to turn the tide on inequalities in diet and health and create a better, brighter future for our children,” Crowther affirms.
A frightening trend
The LGA’s publication closely follows the UK government’s refusal to adopt the National Food Strategy’s recommendations which include taxing salt, sugar and processed foods. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently denounced the recommendations, asserting: “The best way to lose weight, believe me, is to eat less.”
Johnson bucked the recommendations despite the fact that from 2019-2020, the UK experienced its most significant increase in obesity-related hospitalizations due to the pandemic, not merely overeating. During that time, over one million people were hospitalized.
Moreover, a recent study by a team of UK-based researchers found that 80% of British seven-year-olds consumed well over the recommended daily limit, which states that only 10% of calories should come from sugar.
Last year, the American Heart Association announced that obesity could also affect cognition in children. Furthermore, the World Health Organization revealed that obesity may overtake smoking as a leading cause of death in the UK.
By William Bradford Nichols
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