The McKinsey Global Institute cites the global economic cost of obesity (£1.3tn, or 2.8% of annual economic activity ) as being ‘greater than war and terrorism’.
Here in the UK the fiscal costs of obesity amount to a staggering £47bn. Media attention has intensified, following the call for a sugary drinks tax this autumn, the recent publication of the latest NCMP figures and the report of the Health Select Committee Inquiry [HSC] into childhood obesity published earlier this week.
Although the The NCMP figures for the 2014-15 school year revealed a slight fall in numbers of obese children starting school, over a fifth of reception children are still overweight or obese and this rises to one in three by the time they leave primary school. Crucially it found that twice as many children living in poorer areas are obese compared with their peers in more affluent areas. This has led to several charities and lobby groups calling for an extension of the NCMP programme, to include universal measurement and reporting at the age of two and during children’s teenage years.
The HSC Report, titled Childhood obesity – brave and bold action highlights nine areas of improvement including improved education and information about diet, universal school food standards and greater powers for local authorities to tackle the environment leading to obesity.
The Committee also calls for tougher controls on price promotions, marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink, and a centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink.
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health Committee, said: ‘We cannot continue to fail these children. There are many causes and no one single or simplistic approach will provide the answer. We therefore urge the Prime Minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through bold and wide ranging measures within this childhood obesity strategy.’
The Committee believes a sugary drinks tax is ‘a clearly defined policy recommendation that can be simply and swiftly implemented’ and is an ‘essential part of a wider package of measures to tackle childhood obesity’.
Wollaston added: ‘We believe that if the Government fails to act, the problem will become far worse. A full package of bold measures is required and should be implemented as soon as possible. We believe that a sugary drinks tax should be included in these measures with all proceeds clearly directed to improving our children’s health."
Tam Fry, spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum (NOF), called the report ‘a breath of fresh air’. He told JFH that in the 20 years he was worked on childhood obeseity issues he has not seen a strategy that sets out so clearly the measures required to stem our current epidemic and in time maybe confine it to history.
He explained, ‘The slight drop in the NCMP preschool figures is heartening, but before celebrating them too much, remember two things. Firstly, the Chancellor's boost to the NHS in his Autumn Spending Review does not apply to local government budgets responsible for containing childhood obesity. It is the town hall’s job to tackle the epidemic and real cuts to their funding will make it harder for them to bring the figures down further. Secondly, central government is still way off its 2020 target to reduce obesity rates to their 2000 levels. Whatever the figures are today, they are still a disgraceful illustration of the ineptitude of Whitehall to tackle one of the UK’s most serious health problems.’
The report also calls for changes in planning legislation for local authorities, in order to simplify the processes for limiting the number of unhealthy food outlets in local areas.
Impact on other measures listed are a ban on junk food advertising on TV before 9pm, more local public health investment in teaching children and families to cook and more funding for the Government’s free childcare scheme to reflect the cost of good food for children.
Linda Cregan, chief executive of the Children’s Food Trust, said, ‘We need to be tracking children’s weight more closely, not less. Our health system monitors babies’ weight so carefully because it’s such an important indicator of their health. But as children get older, that pro-active contact on their nutrition and weight gets less. That simply can’t be right, in a country where our nutrition has become so poor that we’re having to draw up a national childhood obesity strategy. And if that strategy is to do its job, we need to know what’s working and when in childhood – coupled with far more useful and meaningful communication with parents about children’s weight, and better access to the support that helps families eat well.’
To read the full report from the Health Select Committee, click here. The latest NCMO figures are available here.