Projections have warned that around 40% of 10 to 11-year-olds will be obese or overweight by 2030 if trends in childhood obesity continue at their current rate, with health experts calling for ‘bold steps’ to be taken to tackle this ‘public health crisis.’
Around a quarter of four to 5-year-olds could also be overweight or obese by 2030, the projections published by the Local Government Association (LGA) on 25 June also warned.
‘The stark predictions mean the Government will miss its target to halve childhood obesity by 2030 without further urgent action,’ the LGA said.
The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales responsible for public health, said its analysis of figures from the National Child Weight Measurement Programme has found that, by 2030, 37.5% of 10 to 11-year-olds could be overweight or obese, rising to 40.2% by 2040.
It also found that children living in areas with the highest levels of deprivation are most at risk, with 44% of 10 to 11-year-olds in the most deprived local authority areas in the country predicted to be overweight or obese by 2030 compared to 33% in the least deprived areas.
In 2016, the Government launched a childhood obesity plan which aimed to halve childhood obesity and reduce the gap in obesity between children from the most and least deprived areas by 2030.
‘According to current trajectories, no council will halve their childhood obesity prevalence by 2030 if these trends are allowed to continue,’ the LGA warned.
John Maingay, director of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘These projections underline the truly urgent need for the Government to get a grip on childhood obesity.
‘Tragically, a child with obesity is more likely to have obesity as an adult, which in turn puts them at greater risk of serious illness such as heart attack or stroke, and which drives our unacceptable health inequalities.’
Serious public health crisis
Mr Maingay said the Government must show it ‘grasps the seriousness of this public health crisis by pressing ahead with the delayed plans to curb junk food advertising and multi-buy promotions, so that a healthier environment is created for all families.’
He warned that, ‘without bold action now, we risk becoming a less healthy and more unequal nation, making the Government’s aim of levelling up that much harder.’
Chris Askew OBE, chief executive of Diabetes UK, has said the charity is ‘very concerned’ that this ‘spike in childhood obesity will translate into an even greater increase in children with type 2 diabetes in the coming years – a crisis fuelled by long-standing health inequalities and made worse still by impacts of the cost-of-living crisis.’
The Government is ‘letting our children down,’ he said, and ‘needs to entirely rethink its commitment to child health.’
Mr Askew warned that, ‘with soaring numbers of children now living with obesity, and numbers diagnosed with type 2 diabetes on a very concerning climb, we are facing a perfect storm which risks irreversible harm to the health of young people.’
Earlier this month, the Government published its Food Strategy whitepaper, aimed at supporting ‘healthier and homegrown diets for all,’ the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said, with plans to introduce ‘a suite of measures to improve school food and build a strong food curriculum.’
However, Dr Max Davie, officer for health improvement of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it showed ‘little evidence of practical measures such as taxation of sugar and salt-rich foods, and extension of eligibility for free school meals.’
He said: ‘It is no good government having ambitious targets if they are not prepared to take the actions required to meet these targets.’
It is ‘imperative that children are put in the centre of policy action,’ Dr Davie urged, and called for ‘a concerted effort’ and ‘holistic approach.’
The LGA said the Government’s whitepaper on health disparities – originally due in spring, but yet to materialise – is ‘a crucial moment’ to grasp the obesity issue and address the prevalence of and inequalities of obesity. ‘It needs to include greater powers for councils to tackle the clustering of existing takeaways and restricting junk food advertising,’ the LGA urged, ‘alongside extra investment in other council-run programmes such as weight management schemes and offering free or reduced-cost physical activity programmes.’
Tomorrow’s obese adults
Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘There is still much to do if we are to avoid today’s obese children becoming tomorrow’s obese adults. The Government must work with councils and others to turbo charge the efforts to tackle this ticking health time bomb.
‘Access to healthy, nutritious food is a huge challenge for families in our most disadvantaged communities, particularly amidst the ongoing rise in the cost of living.
‘To effectively tackle obesity, councils need funding to provide targeted support to those who need it the most, including the restoration of funding for weight management programmes which was removed this year. Money raised from the soft drinks industry levy should also be reinvested in other council-run programmes, including healthy eating programmes and active play and physical exercise schemes.
‘Investment in councils’ public health services now will reap benefits for everyone longer-term and help improve the life chances of the next generation.’
The Local Government Association’s new analysis comes after soaring levels of obesity among primary school children sparked alarm among healthcare bodies late last year, who said more needs to be done to tackle childhood obesity and improve child health.