Councils take lead on tackling child obesity

Derren Hayes
Monday, May 27, 2019

Average adult life expectancy has fallen by six months over the past year, according to analysis by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.

There are many reasons for the decline, but some analysts highlight the impact of rising obesity levels as a key factor. The projections illustrate the threat obesity poses to today's children - and the urgency for action by agencies. Data from the National Child Measurement Programme shows 9.5 per cent of children are obese at the age of five, rising to 20 per cent when they leave primary school.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says obese children are more likely to be obese adults, increasing their risks of suffering from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. In addition, child obesity rates are significantly higher in the most deprived places.

With government efforts to tackle the issue leaving many underwhelmed, councils such as Leeds have taken the initiative. Recent analysis by Oxford University cited Leeds as being the first council to reduce obesity rates among four- and five-year-olds - it fell from 9.4 to 8.8 per cent overall, with even larger reductions in the rates for the most deprived children.

Leeds has taken a city-wide approach to tackling the issue so that a range of public agencies have been involved in helping families and communities to make healthier choices in many aspects of their life - from transport to school dinners. A crucial factor for the youngest children has been to partner with the national child health charity Henry to provide intensive support for pre-school families on how to live healthily - delivered through the council's network of children's centres.

Leeds offers a blueprint for others to follow, but councils can, and need, to do more if they are to make further inroads. For example, children's services leaders must work with schools to ensure lunch and break times are not shortened to cram in more time for academic work. The scandal of developers excluding the children of social tenants from using playgrounds in new housing estates - as seen in the recent case of Henley Homes - must be stopped. And to address rising child poverty, councils, the NHS and supermarkets should work together to ensure fresh fruit and vegetables are subsidised.

Such measures may cost in the short term, but councils, society - and, most importantly, children and families - will reap the benefits in the long term. As Leeds has shown, only joined-up, co-ordinated approaches can turn the tide on obesity.

Derren Hayes is editor of Children & Young People Now

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