Government cuts and ‘disjointed’ policies are damaging the health of children in England, the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health (RCPCH) have said.
Prof Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH, highlighted how around 1 in 5 children are obese by the time they leave primary school, which has damaging effects on their health as well as the economy.
Speaking to the Guardian, Modi said: ‘If we don’t get this right right now we will be – and are already – reaping terrible consequences down the line. The latest figures I’ve seen are 10 to 20 fewer years of healthy life if you go into young adulthood obese.’
She said that government attempts to address the situation thus far had been ‘piecemeal’ as she called for ‘much bolder’ policies.
The RCPCH has been tracking the progress of governments in the UK since last year, when it set a number of recommendations in its State of Child Health report.
In a follow-up report, the organisation argued that the English government had made less progress then their counterparts in Wales or Scotland, despite the introduction of a sugar tax, new tobacco controls and a digital child health strategy.
The report also said child poverty in the UK has reached its highest levels since 2010, with children from deprived backgrounds more likely to become obese or overweight. It criticised relentless public health cuts that disproportionately affect children’s services.
Modi stressed that such health measures are not only beneficial to individual’s, but also to that of the wider economy: ‘Take the obesity example. 80% of obese children will be obese adults and an obese adult will lose 18 years of healthy life. Clearly that is going to have a double whammy on the health of the nation. You lose adult productivity and you impose another burden on the health services.’
While progress in England has remained ‘largely unchanged’, Scotland and Wales have seen some improvements. Scotland has passed an act committing itself to reducing child poverty, while Wales has extended smoking bans and is expanding its child health research.
‘Child health isn't being given the political attention it deserves in Westminster, which is disappointing given the real commitments from the Scottish and Welsh governments,’ said Prof Russel Viner, RCPCH officer for health promotion.
A government spokesperson said: ‘There is always more to do, but we have world-leading plans in place to safeguard child health by combating obesity, improving mental health and vaccinating against some of the world's deadliest diseases.’