The scale and consequences of childhood obesity demand bold and urgent action from Government. We urge the Prime Minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through his childhood obesity strategy.
One fifth of children are overweight or obese when they begin school, and this figure increases to one third by the time they leave primary school. Furthermore, the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese both at Reception and at Year 6 than the least deprived children. Obesity is not only a serious and growing problem for individual children and the wider population, it is also a significant contributor to health inequality.
Treating obesity and its consequences is currently estimated to cost the NHS £5.1bn every year. It is one of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which accounts for spending of £8.8 billion a year, almost 9% of the NHS budget. The wider costs of obesity to society are estimated to be around three times this amount. By contrast, the UK spends only around £638 million on obesity prevention programmes.
Few effective interventions are in place to help those children identified as overweight or obese, making it all the more important to focus on prevention. The recommendations we make in this report have a strong focus on changing the food environment, reflecting the evidence we have heard. The evidence shows that information campaigns aimed at promoting healthier choices generally tend to help those who are already engaged with health, and may therefore only serve to widen health inequalities. Similarly, although physical activity has enormous benefits, regardless of weight, encouraging people to increase their physical activity levels alone is unlikely to have an impact on the obesity crisis. The Government should not lose sight of the clear evidence that measures to improve the food environment to reduce calorie intake must lie at the heart of a successful strategy.
Several of our recommendations relate to reducing sugar in people’s diets. This reflects the evidence presented by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) that sugar has a significant impact on obesity, and that children are consuming nearly three times the recommended maximum intake, but we recognise that a successful strategy should aim to reduce fat as well as sugar in children’s diets.
Reflecting the evidence we heard, we have made recommendations in nine different areas. No one single area offers a solution in itself, but we see a strong case for implementing changes in all of these areas. They are:
We believe that if the Government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible.
Prepared 27 November 2015