The Health Committee published a report revealing the scale and consequences of childhood obesity which both demand bold and urgent action from Government.
Treating obesity and its consequences is now estimated to set the NHS back £5.1bn each year. It is one of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which accounts for spending of £8.8 billion a year, nearly 9% of the NHS budget.
The wider costs of obesity to society are predicted to be around three times this amount. By contrast, the UK spends only around £638 million on obesity prevention programmes. Continued cuts to public health budgets within the spending review will put prevention services under further pressure.
The report underlines that physical activity is tremendously beneficial regardless of children’s weight, but this is not the only factor in tackling the rising toll of obesity. The Committee points to the clear evidence that measures to improve the food environment to reduce calorie intake must be at the centre of a successful strategy.
The report underlines nine areas for improvement which are:
Strong controls on unhealthy food and drink price promotions;
Stricter controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink;
A centrally led reformulation programme to reduce sugar in food and drink;
A sugary drinks tax on full sugar soft drinks, with the proceeds targeted to help those children at greatest risk of obesity;
Labelling of single portions of products with added sugar to show sugar content in teaspoons;
Improved education and information concerning diet;
Universal school food standards;
Increased powers for local authorities to combat the environment leading to obesity;
Early intervention to give help to families of children affected by obesity and further research into the most effective interventions.
Chair of the Health Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said:
“One third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, and the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese than the least deprived. This has serious consequences for both their current and future health and wellbeing and 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 his childhood obesity strategy.
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.”