Childhood obesity: Time for action Contents


The problem

1.Current estimates suggest that nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 in the UK are overweight or obese. These children and young people are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer.1 The personal cost for children living with a lifetime of obesity is immense and they are more than twice as likely to die prematurely as a result.2 Obese adults are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than adults of a healthy weight,3 and are also at greater risk of other health conditions including heart disease, cancer and depression.4

House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: Obesity Statistics, Number 3336, published 20 March 2018

2.It was estimated that the NHS in England spent £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2017/18. To put this in context, this is more than the Government spent on the police, fire service and judicial system combined.5

3.Childhood obesity is also a leading cause of health inequality. The burden is falling disproportionately on children from low-income backgrounds. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most deprived areas and the inequality gap has widened every year since formal recording began as part of the child measurement programme. Children aged 5 and from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese compared to those in most advantaged decile, and by age 11 they are three times as likely to be obese.6 The importance of that point is illustrated starkly by the graphs below, which show the contribution of childhood obesity to health inequality—and the widening gap between those in the most and least deprived areas.7

House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: Obesity Statistics, Number 3336, published 20 March 2018

Source: National Child Measurement Programme 2007/08 to 2015/16 data

Child obesity: BMI ≥ 95th centile of the UK90 growth reference

4.The Government’s childhood obesity plan, which had originally been expected in autumn 2015, was eventually published on 16 August 2016. As our predecessor Health Committee observed in their last report on this subject, campaigners on childhood obesity were underwhelmed by its contents and there was widespread concern that the original draft strategy appeared to have been watered down.8 Whilst there was a resounding welcome for the sugary drinks levy, evidence to this inquiry has been clear that the next round of the Government’s plan needs to be far more comprehensive and to be far bolder if it is to make an effective contribution to tackling childhood obesity and in particular to the unacceptable and widening health inequality which results.9

Our work

5.Our predecessor Health Committee conducted a brief inquiry into childhood obesity in September and October 2015. Their report, Childhood obesity—brave and bold action, was published in November 2015.10 Dissatisfied with the Government response to this report, the Committee launched another short inquiry—Childhood obesity: follow up— which made recommendations in a variety of areas:11

The Government response to the report stated:

The plan marks an important step forward in tackling childhood obesity, but it is not the final word. As part of this ongoing process … we are continuing our conversations with industry, schools, experts and the public sector on how we can further tackle childhood obesity.12

6.In accordance with our predecessor’s declared intentions,13 we launched a further inquiry into childhood obesity, to evaluate progress since the 2016 childhood obesity plan, and contribute to the “continuing conversations” on childhood obesity.

7.Our inquiry into childhood obesity received over 50 submissions. We heard oral evidence from a range of groups including the food and drink, catering and retail industries, Government, campaign groups, activists and academics. We heard powerful evidence on the personal cost to individuals as well as the wider costs and scale of the problem. We also heard about the work being undertaken in a number of settings to tackle this issue. We travelled to Amsterdam to meet representatives from the Amsterdamse Aanpak Gezond Gewicht (Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme) and Jongeren Op Gezond Gewicht (Young People at a Healthy Weight) programme and we visited a number of school-based and community programmes across the city. We wanted to understand the measures that have been taken at local and national level that have contributed to their success in tackling childhood obesity and the health inequality gap in recent years. We are grateful to all those who gave us evidence. We would also like to thank the Parliamentary Academic Fellows Dr Oliver Mytton, Honorary Specialty Registrar, UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, and Thijs van Rens, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Warwick, for their assistance throughout this inquiry, particularly in assessing the available academic evidence on what works in tackling childhood obesity.

8.The Government has indicated that a refresh of the Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action will be published shortly.14 We have heard compelling evidence which we hope the Government will take into account before setting out its next steps. This report sets out the key messages we have heard from witnesses during the course of our inquiry. It is necessarily brief, so that we can publish it in time to influence the Government’s refreshed plan. We intend to return to the subject following the publication of the plan to assess its adequacy against the weight of the evidence we have heard during this inquiry.

9.In this report we outline a number of key areas which we consider must be included in the next chapter of the plan. All the components are important and excluding any of the elements would make for a less effective plan and, in some cases, miss important opportunities to narrow the gap between the most and least disadvantaged children:

i)Leadership and a whole-system approach to changing culture and the obesogenic environment

ii)Marketing and advertising

iii)Price promotions

iv)Takeaways and powers for local authorities and communities

v)Early years, schools and wellbeing

vi)Taxation and fiscal measures


viii)Support for children living with obesity

2 Ibid

3 Ibid

4 Ibid

7 House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: Obesity Statistics, Number 3336, published 20 March 2018

8 The Secret Plan to Save Fat Britain: Channel 4 Dispatches, 31 Oct 2016

10 Health Committee, Childhood obesity—brave and bold action, First Report of Session 2015–16, HC465

11 Health Committee, Childhood obesity: follow-up, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, HC928

12 Government Response to the House of Commons Health Select Committee report on Childhood obesity: Follow-up, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, Cm9531

13 Health Committee, Childhood obesity: follow-up, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, HC928

14 Q279

Published: 30 May 2018