Stained Glass Child

Record High in Severe Childhood Obesity for the UK

Disparities UK Trends for Childhood ObesityThe prevalence of severe childhood obesity has reached a record high in the U.K. In fact, severe obesity now affects 4.4 percent of all children in England. Among children with economic deprivation the risk is four times higher. In response, we hear lots of talk. But action has been spotty. The U.K. is making less than zero progress toward its goal to cut childhood obesity by half in 2030.

The country will soon rival the U.S. for the sheer magnitude of its problem.

Sweeping Action?

On her way out as England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies proposed sweeping action. It was the final report of her tenure. She wants to reshape the food environment. No snacking on public transport. Taxes on sugar expanded beyond drinks. Strict limits on food advertising. Rebalance the food supply to favor healthy options – through regulation.

In all, she has 13 principles and detailed recommendations for each of those principles. Take note of what’s last on her list of principles: develop the evidence base.

In other words, maybe we should figure out what will work.

A Spotty Record

The history of efforts to address this problem is one of false starts. In his final weeks as Prime Minister, David Cameron developed an ambitious plan. But Theresa May buried it. Apparently, it clashed with her free-market instincts. So she unveiled a watered-down plan.

By 2018, the winds shifted again and the Soft Drinks Industry Levy came into force. Superficially, it seemed like a success. However, a closer look reveals mixed results. Yes, sugar in beverages went down. But overall sugar consumption went up. Obesity is a systems problem. These systems are complex and adaptive. People seek pleasure from food.

The current PM, Boris Johnson, has his hands full. He’s not very enthusiastic about “nanny state” interventions, so little is happening. Just talk.

Children Left Behind

Meanwhile, a serious problem is brewing. The growth of severe childhood obesity will have dire effects on the health and life prospects for England’s children. The NHS is doing next to nothing for these kids who are severely affected. The report from Davies says nothing about providing real care for these children.

All of this adds up to neglect of a growing group of children with a serious health problem. Public health solutions are essential. So too is better medical care for the children with this serious chronic disease. Simply turning away from the problem will only lead to it growing even larger.

Click here for the latest numbers from NHS Digital and here from the report from Dame Davies. For further perspective, click here and here.

Stained Glass Child, photograph © Ant Smith / flickr

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October 14, 2019