I checked back to find when I first started to comment about the increase in obesity trends and the associated decrease in physical play and sadly, I could way back to 2012. Since then, the statistics have reached epidemic proportions and as ever the poorest children are bearing the brunt of the complex issues which have combined to create this obesity crisis.
So, I am relieved that Sadiq Khan has launched the London Obesity Taskforce. I have been invited to advise on all things Early Years; especially children and staff. Of course, I cannot do this alone and have sought the voluntary support of an advisory group made up of colleagues, parents and children across the UK willing to review possible ideas and action. Just in case you have forgotten, here are some key statistics:
- 1/3 of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight
- Nearly 40% of young Londoners are overweight or obese before they leave primary school
- We spend more annually on obesity than we do on Police, Fire Service and the judicial system combined
- NHS spent £5.1 billion on overweight and obesity related illness last year
I know, its staggering so please don’t add to the numbers by choking on your sugar-free chocolate.
This mess has been created by a set of complex circumstances which combined to create a perfect storm. The situation is complicated. Obesity has many drivers including, behaviour, environment, genetics and culture. However, if we were to boil it down to one thing; we are eating too many calories and not burning them off. (This is a challenge for every middle-aged woman but It’s shocking when it affects our children!)
I wasn’t the only one writing about obesity over the years. There have been many ideas and actions, though frustratingly, not well-coordinated or scaled effectively. I have been involved in two things for which I am proud but also irritated by how long it has taken to come to fruition. Firstly, designing the Early Years and School chef qualification and secondly, becoming part of the EYNP Partnership. Watch this video which brings it to life:
The Government produced two childhood obesity strategies. The first in 2016 and a second in June 2018. Neither were considered robust enough to really make a big impact quickly and I was incensed at how little attention was paid to early years. However, it did have some sensible actions including:
1. A sugar tax designed to fund more breakfast clubs as well as more sports and physical activities in schools and societies! A target was set to reduce the sugar content in food by 20% by 2020.
2. Provide an updated nutrient profile which assigns scores to food and drink according to ingredients.
3. Re-commitment to the Healthy Start scheme, of vouchers for vegetables and milk during pregnancy for families on low-income.
4. Introduction of an hour physical exercise for children including at least 30 minutes in school and a further commitment of £1.6 million to support cycling and walking to school.
There are a raft of consultations planned to ascertain the public’s views as to the wisdom of:
- Banning advertisement of products high in fat and sugar before the 9pm watershed
- Price promotions and BOGOFs
- Reversing the milk drink exemption from the sugar levy by 2020.
- Promoting unhealthy foods as the end of aisles, checkouts and store entrances
- Banning sales of energy drinks to children
The London Mayor also wants to ban advertising of unhealthy food on TFL buildings ( of which there are many) for which he got 80% public support from the 1000 Londoners polled and 82% of 1500 Londoners polled online.
So, lots of consultation …
In the meantime, has launched the London Obesity Taskforce, chaired by Paul Lindley. This is aligned to the Mayor of London Better Health for All Londoners 2018 and the UN Sustainable Development Goal #2 which commits to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition and make sure that everyone, including children has access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round by 2030.
Our role is to unleash a transformation in London so that every child has every chance to eat healthy diets, drink plenty of water and be physically active. Our vision is that every child in London grows up in a community and environment that supports their health and weight.
Like all good taskforces, we have set some targets and a means of ensuring them. These include:
- Reduce the number of London Year Six children who are obese by 50% by 2030
- Reduce the deprivation gap between the richest and poorest areas across London by 50% by 2030 (in order words bring Richmond and Barking and Dagenham closer together in a healthy and positive way!)
There will be academic involvement and our Vice Chair is Professor Corinna Hawkes from the City University of London. We will be drawing on what we know works across the big cities of the world through the Living Cities approach. We will also create some form of Food Action Alliance, by bringing all the good work being done by so many together in London. We cannot tackle this on our own so let’s co produce a set of actions and identify ways to scale and replicate great activities.
Finally, we will try to understand people’s lived experiences, so we can understand the day from waking up to going to sleep. This was we can start to design a model around the challenges (what we can afford, know , can do) and opportunities provided inside the home and outside in the shops, the local neighbourhood and all the varieties of the built environment. For children, we hope to be able to measure progress through the National Child Measurement Programme.
Here is my starter for ten. I was unimpressed with myself! Start yours and identify barriers to healthy eating. I can see already in mine its poor planning, ease of access to the supermarket, not enough water and a killer diary that does not value the importance of stopping and eating. Give it a go… I will be asking you to do more like this… will you help?