Obesity is a serious health concern for children living in the UK. The problem begins early with excess weight gained before a child starts school [i - see references below]. More than one in five children are already overweight or obese in reception year at age 4-5, according to the most recent national child measurement programme, and by year 6 (aged 10-11) this figure had increased to one in three[ii].
Once established, obesity tracks through childhood and adolescence. This is a major concern as being overweight or obese is associated with adverse health outcomes both in the short and long term. In the short term, overweight children are more likely to suffer from ill health and are at increased risk of potentially fatal conditions such as asthma and sleep apnoea.
Mental health is also affected as overweight children are reported to have reduced self-esteem and are more likely to be bullied compared with their normal weight peers as a consequence of weight stigma. This has potential long-term consequences through adverse effects on educational attainment and lifetime achievement. It is therefore important that action is taken to tackle weight stigma as well as to help children to lose weight.
For many children obesity persists into adult life where it is linked to serious diseases of the cardiovascular system, including diabetes and stroke, and certain cancers. Therefore, to protect short- and long-term health, interventions to prevent obesity should begin early in life, ideally during the preschool years, and preferably even before a baby is born, working with women of child bearing age.
Obesity costs the NHS approximately £6.1 billion per year and the cost to the wider economy, estimated at £27 billion a year, is even higher[iii]. The Obesity Health Alliance estimates that obesity and excess weight could be linked to 7.6 million cases of disease by 2035[iv]. Strategies to reduce obesity and its burden on health and the wider economy are therefore urgently sought.
The BDA supports and welcomes the government’s current childhood obesity strategy, published in August 2016. The strategy includes actions to reduce sugar intake, such as a sugar levy on soft drinks, guidance on reformulation of high sugar foods for industry and calorie reduction programmes. These are all welcomed and supported by the BDA.[v]
However, the association strongly believes that additional actions are needed to reduce the unacceptably high prevalence of childhood obesity in the UK. It is widely accepted that no one solution can reverse childhood obesity, and that a combination of measures is required. Public Health England,[vi] the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health[vii] and the Commons Health Select Committee[viii] have all proposed actions that are underpinned by evidence which may help reduce obesity in children. It is disappointing that many of these were not included in the childhood obesity strategy.