The Government finally published its long awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy. Getting this right could have presented Government with a huge opportunity to change the health and lifestyles of a whole generation of children, but they got it wrong.
Given the UK has one of the highest levels of obesity in Western Europe with one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, the government should be doing everything in its power to tackle this problem. Instead it rowed back on its promises by announcing a weak plan rather than the robust strategy it promised.
The BMA has long campaigned for measures to reduce the levels of obesity, including action targeted at improving children's diets and increasing physical activity levels. In the past there has been an over-reliance on personal responsibility and educational approaches, which fails to recognise the need for a range of interventions to support and promote behaviour change, including some regulatory approaches.
Our own report, 'Food for Thought' last year brought together a range of policies targeted at children, diet and obesity, including strengthening restrictions around the marketing of junk food to children, ensuring that all mandatory food standards apply to all academy schools and free schools and ensuring a free fruit and vegetable scheme is available to all primary school children throughout the UK, five days per week.
Doctors are now seeing in children and young people diseases and disorders once found only in the middle-aged and elderly, including Type 2 diabetes, problems with joints and raised blood pressure. Health and Social Care Information Centre figures suggest that around one in 10 children are obese when they start primary school -- a figure that rises to one in five by the end of the primary years. Figures released in June suggest there are more than 500 children in England and Wales now diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Overweight children become overweight adults, and are far more likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. This is incredibly worrying.
Although the government proposes targets for food companies to reduce the level of sugar in their products, the fact that these are voluntary and not backed up by regulation, renders them pointless. Targets are also needed to reduce levels of saturated fat and salt in products - these must be backed up by regulation.
Poor diet has become a feature of our children's lives, with junk food more readily available, and food manufacturers bombarding children with their marketing every day for food and drinks that are extremely bad for their health. It is incredibly disappointing that the government has failed to include any plans for tighter controls on marketing and promotion.
While the introduction of a sugar tax is an encouraging step forward, this on its own is not enough to solve the obesity problem facing our country. Poor diet is responsible for up to 70,000 deaths a year, and has a greater impact on the NHS budget than alcohol consumption, smoking or physical inactivity.
The government must act now and take urgent action to address the ticking time-bomb that obesity poses to children and the NHS.
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