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Government struggling to tackle rising childhood obesity

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There are fear over the childhood obesity strategy There are fears over the efficacy of the childhood obesity strategy

The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) programme to combat childhood obesity may be unable to reduce rising rates due to multiple reorganisations and strategy changes, a report by the National Audit Office has suggested.

According to the report, in 2018/19, 9.7% of 4 to 5 year olds and 20.2% of 10 to 11 year olds in England were obese. Children in deprived areas are twice as likely to be obese than those in less deprived areas: nearly 13% of 4 to 5 year olds in the most deprived areas compared with 6.4% in the least deprived areas. At ages 10 to 11, this gap is greater with 26.9% in the most deprived areas classified as obese, compared with 13% in the least deprived.

Tackling childhood obesity is a major challenge, and one that governments have struggled with since the 2000s. It is clear that children living in deprived areas or from ethnic minorities are far more likely to be obese and the problem is worsening,’ said Gareth Davies, head of the National Audit Office.

‘Progress with the Childhood Obesity Programme has been slow and many commitments are not yet in place. The new strategy announced in July has signalled a greater intention to tackle obesity but the government will need to follow through with more urgency, commitment and cohesion if it is to address this severe risk to people’s health.’

Obesity rates for children in different ethnic groups vary considerably. For example, just over 9% of white children were classified as obese in 2018/19 at age 4 to 5 years old, compared with more than 15% of black children. These rates increase to more than 18% and nearly 29% respectively by age 10 to 11. Public Health England (PHE) and DHSC do not know how large a role deprivation plays in this variation between ethnic groups and acknowledge that further work is required.

‘Nursing staff see the impact of obesity every day and it is clear that urgent targeted action is needed to tackle what is clearly a growing problem. Yet, as this report lays bare, successive governments haven't taken this important issue as seriously as is required,’ said Susan Masters, RCN Executive Director of Nursing, Policy and Public Affairs.

‘We need action to reduce levels of obesity and protect the long-term prospects of those most at risk. This requires investment into health and care services which support healthier lifestyles, and a commitment to redress the balance for these services which have seen their funding cut.’

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