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Government must increase health visitor numbers to tackle childhood obesity

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Rates of childhood obesity are spiralling

Numbers of health visitors and school nurses must be boosted to combat childhood obesity, the RCN has said in response to the government’s updated strategy.

The updated strategy will target advertising and labelling of fast food and sugary products, in an attempt to reduce high rates of childhood obesity. However, according to the RCN, this must be supported by health visitors and school nurses.

‘Positive messages are a vital part of helping families make healthy choices, yet the number of health visitors has declined by 20% in the last three years, and school nurse numbers have fallen even further,” said Donna Kinnair, Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice at the RCN. ‘This means that for many parents, these messages are simply not getting through.

Preventative services, including obesity clinics, are being cut across the country as public health funding continues to dwindle.

The DH has announced that it will consult on introducing clear, consistent calorie labelling on menus in restaurants, cafés and takeaways, allowing parents to make a choice about what their families are eating. The department will also consult on banning the sale of harmful, caffeine-laden energy drinks to children – a quarter of 6- to 9-year-olds consume these energy drinks, which can have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee or more. The second chapter of the plan also promotes a new national ambition for every primary school to adopt a daily ‘active mile’ initiative, such as the Daily Mile.

‘Parents want what is best for their children, but keeping them healthy and active can be difficult,’ said Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health. ‘It is near impossible to shield children from exposure to unhealthy foods. Parents are asking for help – we know that over three-quarters of parents find offers for sugary sweets and snacks at checkouts annoying. It’s our job to give power to parents to make healthier choices, and to make their life easier in doing so.’

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