A doctor leading the fight against childhood obesity has warned that children are already developing life-threatening illnesses because of inaction to tackle the problem.
Dr William Bird MBE criticised the government’s strategy, saying it is needed on a much greater scale to bring change.
Something is going badly wrong, he said. Childhood obesity didn’t exist 100 years ago, this is a man-made creation.
What we are seeing is in the fat cells in the body, particularly in the tummy, they create inflammation which attacks the brain and arteries and that leads to diabetes, dementia even, depression and anxiety and cardiovascular diseases.
These all start off in children and they just get worse.
A GP in Reading for more than 25 years, Dr Bird believes there needs to be more focus on social movement and less on individual behaviour.
He said: The government strategy could be a lot better, it’s not far reaching enough. It could be a lot more structured and connected to everything so we really get the transport, education and the parks, and business pulling together.
This is the next generation coming through, our future, and it seems to have been pushed to one side.
Latest statistics from the National Child Measurement Programme show that almost 10% of four to five-year-olds in England are obese and by the time children leave primary school at 10-11 years old, that number has doubled to 20%.
Obesity is much more prevalent in less affluent areas with a child from a deprived family more than twice as likely to be obese.
In response to the rising numbers of obese children, Dr Bird created a competition to get children moving outside.
Beat the Street is a game which involves children and adults tapping in with a fob at various beat boxes located at different areas around a town to gain points.
These then add up to win prizes. It has now been rolled out in towns and cities across the country.
He said: I am a doctor, my job is to get people well. I want to get people to be more active and I found that it is really simple.
It’s all about making the activity a means to something better, to make people think about what is on their doorstep. We need to do something on a scale not being done at the moment.
Research shows some children are eating an extra 500 calories a day and the number of severely obese children, those with a BMI on or above the 99.6 percentile for a child’s age and sex, is the highest since records began.
Abbey Hulton Primary School in Stoke on Trent has introduced various measures to tackle the obesity crisis head on.
It has implemented a lunchbox monitoring system which rewards children who have healthy food and it now holds maths lessons in the sports hall to get the children active while they learn.
Maths teacher Sue Short said: We’ve tried to put in initiatives across the whole school day to make sure the pupils are up and moving, so they are getting that healthy active lifestyle and increase in brain activity. It is to help them realise it’s good to be up and about.
Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman has said that schools alone cannot solve the obesity crisis in children and parents must not abdicate their responsibility.
Mother-of-two and writer of the blog The Guilty Parent, Jo Wimble-Groves, said her way of tackling the issue is to provide a role model for children to follow.
She said: It’s important to get the basics right and get the children outside, it doesn’t matter what the exercise is. If I think to myself, ‘we are going to go for a run or a walk’, then we go out together.
That’s important because if I think, ‘I don’t want to do that’, then I know the kids won’t want to do that either.
We need to teach them that everything is in moderation. We all like a cake and a bit of sugar or fast food, but it has to be a treat and in balance.
The government has pledged to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and reduce the sugar in various foods consumed by children.
In a statement, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: We will be consulting on other measures to tackle childhood obesity, including a 9pm watershed ban on advertising and restrictions on promotions of sugary and fatty foods.
But while there is an important role for the NHS and the government, we all have responsibilities too.
With preventable illnesses like type 2 diabetes and heart disease on the rise, and one in three children leaving primary school overweight or obese, our personal responsibility to keep ourselves and our families healthy is more important than ever.
(c) Sky News 2019: Childhood obesity: Government needs to focus on social movement to tackle crisis, doctor says