Government struggles to tackle childhood obesity

Successive governments have struggled to tackle rising childhood obesity and it is not clear that the Department of Health & Social Care’s (DHSC) current programme will be able to make the step change needed in the timescale available, according to today’s report by the National Audit Office. Governments have been grappling with childhood obesity since the 2000s, with limited success.

In 2018/19, 9.7% of 4 to 5 year olds and 20.2% of 10 to 11 year olds in England were obese.

Children in deprived areas are twice as likely to be obese than those in less deprived areas: nearly 13% of 4 to 5 year olds in the most deprived areas compared with 6.4% in the least deprived areas. At ages 10 to 11, this gap is greater with 26.9% in the most deprived areas classified as obese, compared with 13% in the least deprived.

Not only is obesity increasing for 10 to 11 year olds, it is increasing even faster for children in deprived areas.

While the Department’s programme aims to tackle this issue, it is not yet clear that the actions within the programme are the right ones to make the step-change needed in the timescale available.

Progress with the programme has been slow and many commitments are not yet in place, although the new strategy announced in July 2020 has signalled new legislation and greater willingness to act to reduce obesity. The government will need to act with greater urgency, commitment, co-ordination and cohesion if it is to address this severe risk to health and value for money.

 

“Tackling childhood obesity is a major challenge, and one that governments have struggled with since the 2000s. It is clear that children living in deprived areas or from ethnic minorities are far more likely to be obese and the problem is worsening.

“Progress with the Childhood Obesity Programme has been slow and many commitments are not yet in place. The new strategy announced in July has signalled a greater intention to tackle obesity but the government will need to follow through with more urgency, commitment and cohesion if it is to address this severe risk to people’s health.”

 

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO

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