THE BLOG

Childhood Obesity - a Problem of Epic Proportions

01/10/2015 10:58 BST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:12 BST

Childhood obesity is a problem we all know about but it's the size of the problem that we have yet to fully understand, and the magnitude of the danger it poses to our children and their long term health as adults.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified childhood obesity as one of the most serious health challenges of the 21st century, and this week the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) will be hosting an Obesity Summit aiming to tackle this problem.

One in three children in the UK is overweight and one in five obese - and the numbers are only on the rise. Studies have shown that parents and teachers find it hard to recognise when a child's size is entering dangerous territory, often because in this day in age it just doesn't look that unusual.

It would be easy to point the figure but this is to miss the point - it's not the responsibility of any one organisation, any one parent, any one teacher. It's the responsibility of us all.

As children's nurses, health visitors and school nurses we play a vital role in stopping this crisis in its tracks. We know the incredibly harmful consequences of obesity, not only in childhood but lasting long into adulthood. Nurses have the expertise and the experience to guide but it isn't just a matter for health care - to take this on we need an integrated approach.

Education is paramount; by teaching children about the importance of healthy eating, as well as key skills in cooking and fitness, children and their families can learn and maintain healthy ways of living. But schools also need to practice what they preach by serving healthy school meals, getting rid of snack machines and finding new ways to keep kids active - other than enforced competitive sports.

Local authorities too need to work with health and education services to develop a coordinated strategy and put it into practice. Where schools implement healthy meals, we need to ensure fast food restaurants don't pop up round the corner. We need play areas and sports facilities at the ready for children and families to enjoy together. And we absolutely need solid health services that have the staff and the resources to help deliver the message loud and clear.

This is a national crisis that needs national attention. UK wide investment in public health is vital if we are to address this issue once and for all, and ultimately save the expense of health issues later down the line. Policy needs to reflect the importance of education by making health lifestyles a mandatory part of the curriculum.

Legislation is also key. In the way tobacco marketing has been transformed, food advertising and labelling needs a serious overhaul. Childhood obesity is an equally detrimental problem and deserves equal prevention efforts.

But the most important thing of all is that everyone, from policy leaders to parents, recognises what is at stake. By raising an obese child population we are headed towards an adult population at substantial risk of serious health problems. We need to take action now - if we to save our children and ultimately our entire population from a lifetime of ill health and difficulty.