Children are being let down by cuts to public health services, with obese youngsters potentially losing up to 20 years of healthy life, doctors have warned.
The Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health (RCPCH) said that four in five obese youngsters are destined to remain dangerously overweight into adult life.
The group has also called for a ban on the advertising of foods high in saturated fats, sugar and salt before 9pm and for action to prevent fast food outlets opening near schools.
A year on from its State of Child Health report, the RCPCH has examined how officials have attempted to tackle some of the issues facing child health and wellbeing.
While the government has taken some steps – including introducing the sugar tax on soft drinks and making sex and relationship education mandatory in all schools in England – the authors conclude that the health and wellbeing of youngsters across England remains “largely unchanged”.
They wrote: “Children deserve better. It is they who are disadvantaged most by inefficient health services, cuts to public health and the rising tide of poverty.”
The RCPCH said there had been “destructive” reductions in preventive services.
The report draws on data from King’s Fund analysis which says that councils will spend only £2.52 billion on public health services in 2017/18 compared with £2.60 billion the previous year.
Professor Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH, said: “It is no good only throwing money at treating established problems; there must be far better investment in prevention, which will reap immeasurable long term benefits. This means much bolder public health policies and a reversal of the current destructive cuts to preventive services.”
Professor Modi added: “The science exists for all to see; invest in the health of children and make a huge difference to their health in later life and hence to their economic productivity.
“For example, four-fifths of obese children will remain obese as adults and this will result in them losing between 10 to 20 years of healthy life.
“That’s a very frightening statistic and something that government must get to grips with. It’s no wonder the NHS is burgeoning under the weight of ill health.
“This is time for a long vision for the sake of the nation’s wellbeing and prosperity yet the focus remains short-term and ineffective.”
Caroline Cerny, the Obesity Health Alliance lead, said: “The number of children with an unhealthy weight is at an all-time high and rising, but there is a huge gap in the government’s approach to tackling childhood obesity.
“To improve children’s health in the future, we must take strong action today, starting with a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV.”
The RCPCH also said that England was falling behind Scotland and Wales where officials were “making greater strides in enacting policies to improve child health”.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, added: “This report is a stark reminder that there are over two million children with health-related vulnerabilities being let down by an underfunded and overstretched health system.”
A government spokesman said: “There is always more to do, but we have world-leading plans in place to safeguard child health by combatting obesity, improving mental health and vaccinating against some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
“In the past year, both teen pregnancy and child mortality have fallen to all-time lows, and our soft drinks levy is already funding additional breakfast clubs and sports.”
The RCPCH also urged the Scottish government to tackle “preventable” child deaths.
Dr Steve Turner, the RCPCH’s officer for Scotland, said: “One commitment in particular – the creation of a system to ensure child deaths are properly reviewed, requires urgent implementation.
“Around 450 infants, children and young people die in Scotland each year and many of these deaths are preventable.
“This system will determine why some of these children are dying unnecessarily and will allow measures to be put in place in order to prevent future fatalities.”
He praised Scottish government policies committing to action on obesity and breastfeeding rates, pregnancy health and child poverty but said more work needs to be done.