10/01/2014 11:56 GMT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 GMT

A National New Year's Resolution to Tackle Childhood Obesity


Before Christmas I was part of the judging panel for a competition aimed at promoting healthy living amongst children and young people. It was run as part of the efforts to promote National Obesity Awareness Week, which is taking place this week. We had asked entrants to create either a picture of a healthy meal or their own healthy recipe.

The winners of the competition received funding to create a playground, sports area or vegetable garden in their outdoor space, with runners up receiving funding for sports equipment for their school - both thanks to the team at Disney.

Two things stood out to me. Firstly, the quality of some of the entries was outstanding. But secondly the competition showed how important these sorts of initiatives are, and dozens of the entries were accompanied by letters from their schools talking how the competition had given them the opportunity to promote healthy living amongst their pupils.

I've been involved with the School Food Plan that is working to increase the number of children eating hot and nutritious meals at school, and I know just how great the scale of the child obesity problem in the UK is. The latest figures from the National Child Measurement Programme showed that a third of children aged 10 or 11, and one in five children in their reception year, are obese. This was actually a very slight decrease in the number of overweight and obese children but, however welcome that might be, it was a comparatively modest decrease compared to total number of affected children.

The figures from the National Child Measurement Programme underline the importance of making sure children are receiving healthy and nutritious meals in school. They must also be taught the importance of healthy eating, nutrition, being physically active - and of drinking beverages that aren't full of sugar. By making sure children learn these lessons at an early age, we can help make sure they take good habits into adulthood.

This is why initiatives like National Obesity Awareness Week and the competition I helped judge are so important. One of the focuses of the awareness week is to push for a 'National New Year's Resolution' to turn obesity around. That means action at a national level, but that we also try as individuals to eat healthily and be more active - and to make sure our children are learning these lessons.

The obesity problem is only going to be solved with concerted and sustained action, and a greater commitment at all levels than has previously been made. We have our part to play as individuals. Government must also meet its responsibilities. I would encourage everyone to get involved with National Obesity Awareness Week and to use this as an opportunity to start addressing this major public health problem.

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