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Calling on the Government for more to be done on Childhood Obesity

Based on the current estimates that 4.5 million UK children can be classified as either overweight or obese, the Government – after extensive lobbying – published a Childhood Obesity Plan in August 2016. It was met with severe disappointment all-round, including from the food industry.

Calling on the Government for more to be done on Childhood Obesity

Dr. James Nobles

I was invited by the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) to present evidence in the House of Commons (1st May). This evidence was intended to feed into the HSCCs current inquiry on Childhood Obesity. This was a great opportunity for us to state what we thought was missing from the first version of the Childhood Obesity Plan. Our evidence, alongside that of others, would then be drawn into a set of recommendations for the next version of the plan.

We called for three key elements to be included:

  1. The Government consider how to implement a whole systems approach at a national scale. This would require an intimate knowledge on the systems which cause obesity, cross-departmental working, collective actions, and a strong and clear vision for the future.
  2. Treatment services. The previous plan solely focused on preventing weight gain. While prevention is an imperative, so to is a system which supports those who already have obesity. We made a strong call for weight management services to be included in the next round of Government policy.
  3. Weight stigma. The Government need to consider how they frame obesity, and the impact of that framing on people with obesity, and also on those considering joining a weight management service. Wrongly, the public and political perception is that obesity is caused by poor individual lifestyle choices; individual blaming is counter-productive within an collective effort to tackle obesity.
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Other panellists supported the need for a whole systems approach but went on to suggest further recommendations around extending the National Childhood Measurement Programme, greater support for schools, and further investment in Early Years. It was even good to hear that Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall were calling for – in their words – “a multi-pronged approach which tackles the environment”. Without necessarily knowing it, they were also endorsing the adoption of a whole systems approach.

On day 2 (May 2nd) we had the further opportunity to go back into the houses of Parliament, this time with a group of young people from Sheffield and Suffolk, to speak to a host of MPs about the need for weight management services. These young people had all previously attended a weight management programme, either SHINE or MoreLife.

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Over the course of three hours we spoke with five MPs on this topic. The young people put everything into this, illustrating where they thought they would be right now without the support of the weight management service. Their stories were powerful and compelling. In their own way, each of them was impressive.

At the moment, there is only sufficient funding for approximately 1% of children with overweight or obesity to access a weight management service. Of the 2,500,000 children with obesity, all of whom are eligible for specialist support, funding is available for less than 150.

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These two days provide a strong platform from which to drive change. We have gained new contacts with MPs, received media attention and support for our cases, and hopefully, provided sufficient high-quality evidence to guide the recommendations for the next version of the Childhood Obesity Plan.

We now wait on Government to seriously enhance their efforts around obesity, and healthier environments more broadly.

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About the Author

Leeds Beckett University

Dr James Nobles

James is a former Research Fellow in Public Health and Obesity at Leeds Beckett.

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