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Child obesity

NAO warns obese children risk early death

Today’s children risk dying younger than their parents if the government doesn’t do more to tackle the problem of obesity in youngsters, a new report warns.

In the eight years leading up to 2003, the figures for children classed as obese rose from 9.6 per cent to 13.7 per cent.

Now the National Audit Office (NAO), the Healthcare Commission and the Audit Commission are warning in a joint report, published today, that the government could miss its target of halting the rise in childhood obesity by 2010 – unless it steps up action.

Steve Bundred, Chief Executive of the Audit Commission, said that obesity currently costs the NHS about GBP 1 billion a year. He warned that this could double by 2010.

‘If the trend continues, this generation of children will be the first for many decades that doesn’t live for as long as their parents,’ he said.

Better guidance

The Tackling Child Obesity report warns that organisations supposed to be working together to stop rising childhood obesity had been unclear about their roles and says there needs to be greater clarity from the leading bodies.

The report calls for better local guidance on initiatives to tackle obesity, such as increasing the use of school sports facilities. It also says that the three government departments responsible for tackling childhood obesity – the the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – needed to work closely together to provide strong leadership.

Huge steps forward

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint responded that tackling childhood obesity was a government priority.

‘We have made huge steps forward already in starting to change attitudes through the 5 A Day campaign, the school fruit scheme, and more investment in school food.

‘Our public health agenda is the first concerted attempt to seriously tackle rising levels of obesity. We know that leadership and co-ordination are going to be crucial, as is giving people information and support in making a difference to their own lives.

‘We recognise we need to do more. We will continue to develop our work across Government and the public sector to ensure that we stay on track to meet our target to halt the year-on-year increase of childhood obesity by 2010.’

Commenting on today’s report, Which? Chief Policy Officer Sue Davies said: ‘The findings of this report prove what we have said for some time – that as tackling obesity requires actions on many levels and by many stakeholders, it not only requires a commitment at the highest political level but good co-ordination across government departments.

‘Which? has long called for the establishment of a Nutrition Council. This should be led by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and its focus should be on making positive changes and on enthusing and engaging all those who are in a position to tackle the barriers that currently make it difficult for people to eat healthily.

‘It is also essential that the government delivers on its commitments set out in the White Paper, such as effective controls over food advertising and promotion. Where it is unable to ensure the necessary changes required through a voluntary approach, it must legislate.’ 

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