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Government launches childhood obesity action plan

New strategy for tackling primary school children's health issues focuses on sugar and getting more active

Posted by Stephanie Broad | August 23, 2016 | Health & wellbeing

The government has published its childhood obesity strategy, designed to tackle obesity and improve the nation’s health. 

The plan focuses on encouraging industry to cut the amount of sugar in food and drinks and encouraging primary school children to eat more healthily and stay active. Primary schools will be required to provide at least 30 minutes of physical activity for pupils each day. 

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “Obese children not only suffer the consequences of ill health while they are children, but they are also more likely to be struck down with conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes as adults. Now, at last, we have a plan for reducing obesity early in life.  

“Introducing a new sugar tax and reducing the amount of sugar in foods should help reduce the scandalous level of unnecessary sugar that we eat and help children and their families to choose a healthier diet.  

“But the money raised from the sugar tax must be used to shore up recent cuts in public health spending so we can encourage more children to understand how the food they eat affects their health. This strategy undervalues the role of local authorities in improving public health and could do more to fully utilise health professionals like health visitors and school nurses, who can play an important part in tackling obesity.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: “School leaders will welcome the government’s plan to increase investment into sport and physical activity, and especially the further £10 million a year into school healthy breakfast clubs. We know that a healthy breakfast is a vital start to the day for children, giving them the best conditions for learning. Many children currently arrive in school hungry or hyper due to unbalanced nutrition at home.  

“While schools are already very focused on healthy eating and have strict guidelines for canteens, we welcome further training and guidance for early years’ settings in developing new menus for under fives and encouraging active play.  

“Sport and physical activity is already part of the school curriculum and most schools will already be providing 30 minutes of physical activity a day. More funding for schools to set up new schemes for active break times or additional clubs is needed to ensure all primary age children are learning the physical skills and habits required for healthy lifestyles.” 

Paul Gately, Professor of Exercise & Obesity at Leeds Beckett and founder of weight management provider, MoreLife said he welcomed the strategy but was concerned that the funding won’t be enough. 

He said: “To put it into context, diabetes costs the NHS about £7.7 billion a year and they invest around £2.2 billion. Obesity however costs the NHS £6.1 billion, yet the investment is only around £30 million!  This stark difference is so significant and for me, this is a strategy of inaction, not action. 

“What I find frustrating is that this strategy writes off one in three of our children already; there is not one mention about the third of our children that will die young because of their weight. What it does talk about is food and activity, but what it fails to address is that drive to those behaviours – mental health, social factors and economic factors. These children’s parents live within a cultural environment that drives obesity, which government has a responsibility for and has not done that through this document and has not delivered on its responsibility. 

“I would have liked to have seen much more aggressive engagement with industry, nudging them much further with these agendas. This strategy focuses largely on one nutrient, sugar, when we know that fat and protein also contribute to energy, which in turn contributes to obesity.”

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