Child obesity is a 'state of emergency'
1st September 2014 – Health leaders are warning that an entire generation risks being 'destroyed' by rising childhood obesity unless action is taken.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and 11 other organisations have signed an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, calling for a taskforce to be set up as a matter of urgency.
Junk food and sugar
The letter, which is timed to coincide with the start of the new school year, says a diet of junk food and sugary drinks are largely to blame for increasing obesity among children.
Currently around 1 in 5 children aged 10 to 11 in the UK is obese. Among those in Reception and in their last year of primary school, children in the poorest 10% are almost twice as likely to be obese as those in the most affluent 10%.
Dr Rachel Pryke, RCGP clinical lead for nutrition says in a statement: "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.
"We are in danger of destroying the health of a whole generation of children. As parents and health professionals, we need to take responsibility and ensure that every child has a healthy and varied diet and regular exercise."
NHS under strain
The health leaders warn that if the problem is left unchecked, the NHS will be overwhelmed as a result. They are calling for a national Child Obesity Action Group (COAG) to be set up so that doctors, nurses, midwives, dieticians, dentists and schools can work together to improve obesity treatment and support children to lead healthier lives.
They are also calling for:
- Increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme
- Improved investment in IT programmes for weight management
- More training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals
- Outreach projects to educate families about the dangers of obesity
Dr Richard Roope, RCGP clinical lead for cancer, says in a statement: "Radical steps need to be taken - at the very least levying tax on sugary drinks. We’ve seen this approach work with smoking where there was a notable fall in the number of smokers once prices were increased.
The Department of Health said the Government was not considering a tax on sugar, but was putting in place a raft of measures to help improve children's health. A spokesperson says in a statement: "Tackling obesity is one of our major priorities, but there is no magic bullet to solve the problem, and everyone has a role to play. We know that childhood obesity is at its lowest since 1998 but more should be done.
The Department says the Chief Medical Officer will reply to the points raised in the letter in due course.