Intervention at early years is essential for tackling child obesity

Child obesity is already a huge problem across the UK, and it brings with it significant and long lasting health risks.

The Government has launched its anti-obesity strategy which brings an end to displaying sweets at the checkouts and bans adverts that promote unhealthy food after 9pm. A new “Better Health” campaign, run by Public Health England, will call on everyone to “embrace a healthier lifestyle”.

Instead of highlighting ‘buy one get one free’ deals on sugary and high fat content foods, shops and supermarkets will be encouraged to promote healthy eating choices and offer more discounts on those options.

However, there needs to be a greater focus on healthy eating education at early years level. The National child measurement programme: trends in child BMI highlighted summarised its key findings from 2006 to 2007 and 2018 to 2019:

  • Obesity and excess weight prevalence is showing a downward trend in Reception boys which is driven by a decrease in prevalence for all pupils apart from those in the most deprived areas which showed no change.
  • Reception girls and Year 6 boys and girls are seeing an upward trend in the prevalence of obesity and excess weight which is driven by increases for pupils from the most deprived areas which is offsetting any decreases seen for pupils from the least deprived areas.
  • For Reception girls, the White British ethnic group was the only ethnic group showing an upward trend
  • Severe obesity is increasing among Reception girls and Year 6 boys and girls.
  • Inequalities are widening in obesity, excess weight, and severe obesity across all age and sex groups
  • This widening of inequalities is also seen when examining the slope index of inequality (SII) for obesity; the obesity inequalities gap is greater in Year 6 than in Reception, and is widening at a faster rate.

While the initiative sends a positive message, the Government should also focus resources and funding to the early sectors so the education can begin during their first nursery experience.

Katherine Tate, director at The Food Teacher said:

‘Obesity is a complex issue. The Government’s approach so far has been focussed on short term fixes such as reducing exposure to junk food advertising, reducing offers on junk food, and encouraging more exercise. This is a welcome starting point and long overdue, but at The Food Teacher we feel it must be combined with an education strategy that provides children and families with the practical cooking skills and knowledge that set them up for life, not just topical headlines and quick fixes.’

June O’Sullivan CEO of London Early Years Foundation says:

‘Whilst we welcome the Prime Minister’s revised obesity plan – especially the ban on HFSS advertising on TV and online before 9pm – it’s imperative that nutrition standards in Early Years are also mandated and that chefs are properly taught how to cook nutritious food, like in our Chef Academy. It’s unacceptable that some nurseries are inadvertently adding to the obesity problem by serving meals dangerously high in fat, salt and sugar – and we therefore need a radical wake up. Every parent wants to know that their child is getting tasty, healthy food and they need reassurance that the standards are of the highest quality.’

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood has addressed the issue of obesity in many subsequent reports.

Baroness Benjamin said:

‘It is important that we applaud the inclusion of measures that we have ourselves recommended as significant steps forward and a symbol of Government resolve.

‘We now want the Government to strengthen the proposals to recognise that the obesity problem begins in childhood.

‘A more comprehensive strategy would also include our recommendations on physical activity and play (read our reports).

‘We recognise that the new measures represent a good start. The APPG on A Fit and Healthy Childhood will continue to be a critical friend to all policymakers who genuinely intend to deliver policies and action to reverse the powerful trend towards ever-increasing overweight and obesity.

‘This is no easy task and we call again for a Cabinet-level Minister dedicated to turning words into effective action’





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