Currently, around one in three children under 15 is overweight or obese.
The Foresight Report (2007) found that half the UK population could be obese by 2050 at a cost of £50 billion per year. However, increased obesity levels since the report suggest that these findings could be optimistic and numbers could exceed this!
Experts believe the rise in obesity levels is due to easy access to cheap, high-energy food, less active lifestyles and greater use of cars and public transport rather than walking.
The most serious global public health challenge in years
The World Health Organization (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. They highlight the urgent need for action as obese children are at an increased risk of developing serious health problems.
Dr Rachel Pryke, clinical lead for nutrition at the RCGP (Royal College of GP’s), argues that a national approach is needed, with children educated and their health targeted from an early age:
“The nutritional patterns laid out in early years can define a child’s health for life and the stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems.
“As parents and health professionals, we need to take responsibility and ensure that every child has a healthy and varied diet and regular exercise.”
She added: “Many schools are rising to the challenge and doing what they can in terms of education and outreach…but child obesity treatment provision is a postcode lottery with many areas having limited or no child obesity treatment services at all.”
Generation in denial
Dr Nigel Mathers, who is a member of the Royal College for GP’s said there is a culture of denial among many of his patients.
“Many parents don’t recognise their children are obese because many of them are obese themselves…obesity is the new normal and we need a unified approach to manage it.”
GPs say they are dealing with a generation of patients who may die before their parents.
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard from the Royal College of GPs said: “These kids are going to turn into larger and larger adults, which means they are at much higher risk of serious heart disease, cancers, strokes, as they get older.
“But even more worrying is some of these children, children as young as seven, are developing diabetes.”
Children need educating from an early age
Tam Fry, chair of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, believes that GP’s can do more to help children.
“GPs should be talking to them about their weight and acting on it by doing proper monitoring of children’s weight from birth and then every year of their lives.”
Every year The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the weight of one million school children in England. The latest figures, for 2012/13, show that almost a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese.
To tackle the problem with obesity, The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has suggested various things we as families can do to educate children and improve their health to ensure we don’t reach the figures predicted in the Foresight Report! Some recommendations are:
• Eating regular meals in a pleasant, sociable environment without distractions.
• Families eating together with their children and all eating the same meal.
• Making active activities, such as walking, cycling, swimming and gardening part of everyday family life.
• Reducing sedentary activities, such as watching television and playing video games.