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Government obesity programme 'not enough' to help kids

Childhood obesity is at ‘crisis point’, and only health visitors and school nurses positioned can help

Childhood obesity is at ‘crisis point’, with only health visitors and school nurses positioned to stem the tide, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Public Health England (PHE) announced the next steps of its childhood obesity plan on 18 August as they prepare to look over evidence of calorie consumption and set a programme to remove excess calories from foods such as ready meals, pizzas and burgers which children often consume.

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While PHE highlighted progress already made on its programme to reduce sugar content in sweet snacks, the RCN said their announcements were positive but do ‘not go far enough’.

‘Childhood obesity is at crisis point but the government has yet to acknowledge the severity of the problem,’ said RCN lead for children’s health Fiona Smith. ‘Guidance is all well and good but, as we’ve seen with the sugar levy, it takes definitive legislation to get companies to take action.

‘Public health staff like health visitors and school nurses are experts in educating the whole family about healthy eating and providing practical ways to improve children’s health. Yet as public health budgets are cut, numbers of these crucial staff are declining fast.

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‘Obesity is at the root of so many of the country’s health problems. What we need is a strategy that can stand up to the immense challenge we are facing.’

PHE claimed that adults currently consume on average between 200 to 300 calories too many each day and children are following suit, with high-calorie food more readily available than ever before.

According to their data, one in three children are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school and more children in the UK than previously are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, some as young as seven years old. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were found to be more likely to be obese.

Philip Dunne, Minister of State for Health said: ‘We all have a responsibility to help people live healthier lives, but with a third of children leaving primary school obese we must take a comprehensive approach and now focus on excess calories.

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‘This can only be done through strong guidance, grounded in evidence – that’s why we have funded a new £5 million dedicated Obesity Research Policy Unit to understand the deeper causes of obesity.’

PHE will publish the evidence in early 2018 and then consult with the food industry, trade bodies and health non-governmental organisations to develop guidance and timelines for the calorie reduction programme.