What will it take to halve childhood obesity by 2030?
Childhood obesity directly affects children's physical and mental health, and often persists into adult life, causing significant morbidity and mortality. In England, a third of children aged 10 to 11 years in England are overweight or have obesity. In response, the UK government has outlined a number of policies as part of a national plan to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
There are some grounds for optimism. Overall levels of childhood obesity, whilst unacceptably high, are no longer rising, so with a sufficiently increased response by national and local politicians, it should be possible to reduce the prevalence. Momentum for action is building; the public are rightly concerned and are increasingly willing to accept bold measures to tackle childhood obesity.
"Being overweight or obese in childhood has profound impacts on the health and life chances of children"
The Soft Drinks Industry Levy, or "sugar drinks tax," has stimulated the soft drinks industry significantly to reduce the sugar content of many of their products. Other important policies have been proposed, eg: restrictions on advertising of unhealthy foods on television and the use of multi-buy discounts to sell unhealthy foods. Some local authorities are restricting the opening of new takeaway outlets, and the advertising of unhealthy foods, near schools.
But important grounds for concern remain. Inequalities in childhood obesity are stark and continue to grow. The prevalence of obesity for children aged 10 to 11 years continues to rise steeply for children living in the most deprived areas and is forecast to increase to one in three by 2030 if the present trend continues. The number of takeaway food outlets continues to increase, with the frequent promotion of very large portion sizes. Whilst existing plans should help to reduce childhood obesity, there is little if any prospect that they will achieve the Government's ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030. And major planks to those promised plans are yet to be implemented.
"Our environment has slowly changed, and it makes it hard for our children to be healthy"
Time to Solve Childhood Obesity, a report by Professor Dame Sally Davies, in her role as the previous Chief Medical Officer for England, outlines ten key principles that must underline further actions to meet this goal. The overwhelming focus is on primary prevention, with a clear message that the government needs to do much more to shape the environments that influence what children eat and determine the opportunities for them to be active.
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