Child Obesity and The Obesity Crisis
The rise in obesity – and particularly child obesity – poses a serious public health challenge. It has been predicted that if current trends continue over half of the UK adult population could be obese by 2050. The Foresight Report (2007) said that unless we do something now to tackle child obesity and help people live healthier lives then by 2050:
- treatment for people who are above a healthy weight will cost the UK economy £50 billion a year;
- two-thirds of children in the UK will be above a healthy weight.
Why focus on babies and toddlers?
Children are growing up in an increasingly obesogenic environment, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Approximately one in four children in England are now overweight or obese by school entry, rising to a third by the end of primary school.
The research evidence is unequivocal; if we are going to turn around rising rates of obesity, we need to start at birth, if not before.
- Overweight babies and toddlers are more than five times as likely to be overweight at the age of 12 as those who were a healthy weight in infancy.
- Child obesity tracks into adulthood – at least 70% of obese children will go on to become obese adults.
- Obese children are at greater risk of serious long-term health problems, including cardiovascular problems and Type 2 diabetes. Early signs of fatty liver disease and arteriosclerosis, previously unheard of in children, are now being seen in childhood.
- The emotional consequences of obesity in childhood can be severe and long-lasting, including bullying, low self-esteem and social exclusion.
- Eating and activity habits and food preferences are developed early in life.
Practitioner Training Confidence
- Surveys both here and in the United States show that health and community professionals feel that they lack the skills and confidence to work effectively with parents around child obesity.
- Parents themselves often report that they fail to get the help they need when they are worried about their child’s weight. Their concerns tend to be dismissed or they are made to feel guilty if their child is overweight.
- Childhood weight is often only addressed once the excess weight is established and early intervention opportunities are often missed.
- A recent report by the Childhood Obesity National Support Team emphasised the need for targeted training of the workforce to enhance ‘practitioner confidence’ in raising the issue of unhealthy weight.
- The traditional approach to tackling child obesity, consisting mainly of dietary advice, is not effective in enabling sustained change to family lifestyle.
Key policy messages and priorities in relation to child obesity
The Kennedy Review (2010) called for a ‘huge cultural shift’ towards early intervention, identifying the period from minus 9 months to three years as central to the developmental fate of a child.
- Overcoming health inequalities and encouraging healthier lifestyles are core aims of the Public Health White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People (2010).
- Obesity prevention is one of the key targets of the Healthy Child Programme.
- Giving children the best start in life, supporting healthy lifestyles and communities and preventing ill-health were identified as key actions to reduce health inequalities in the Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives (2010).