Are we failing our children’s health?

A recent study has revealed that more than a third of children about to leave primary school are obese or overweight and the numbers are rising. The figures suggest there has been little progress in the drive to keep weight down. What needs to be done?

More than a third of children about to leave primary school are obese or overweight and the numbers are rising, according to official figures from the school measurement programme.More than 1 million children were weighed and measured during the 2011/12 school year in the reception class and in Year 6, the last year before they move to secondary school.Over a fifth (22.6%) of the youngest children, just starting primary school, are either overweight or obese, the data from the National Obesity Observatory shows. But by the time they have reached the last year of primary school that figure has risen to one in three (33.9%).The new figures suggest there has been little progress in the drive to keep children’s weight down in spite of major concerns. Are we doing enough to help our children and what needs to be done to halt this growing trend.

We know that the environment in which our children grow up is conducive to eating too much of the wrong sorts of food and a sedentary lifestyle. So in order to get children on the right track early on, we need to be looking not only at the parents’ role in encouraging active lifestyles and providing healthy food for their children, but also how society can support them in doing so. That includes looking at factors such as how cooking is taught in schools, ensuring school meals are nutritious, that healthy food is affordable to everyone and that children’s exposure to junk food advertising is limited.

Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Having worked with youngsters for over forty years and still actively involved in athletics development so many youngsters I come across are not able to run for any length of distance because they no longer play outside for a magnitude of reasons. It is also noticeable how many schools have dropped out of outside sports, which does not help the cause since the schools sports partnership no longer exists. Before that time all primary schools were monitored to ensure that their pupils had at least two hours of quality PE a week. Without this monitoring things have gone down rapidly in a large number of schools, which has had a detrimental effect on individual pupils, that although there are still a good number of schools do recognise the value of PE within the curriculum. After the success of the Olympics and the national cry for legacy I cannot emphasise enough the need for a framework to be put in place to ensure that all pupils are exposed to a vigorous exercise regime to stave off the obesity problem.

Mike Dooling, former teacher and parent

A number of new initiatives have been launched to tackle this which will bring about more longer term results. For example, Sefton Primary Care Trust’s 0-5 project aims to bring about a change in the mindset of parents, nursery workers, child minders and schools to make active play an essential part of every child’s day. The key to this is a more structured approach to children’s activity using POW! Increased Pulse, Out of breath and Warm. Guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes a day for 1-3 year olds and 60 minutes a day for 3-5 year olds. These guidelines are a starting point, but we all have a responsibility to acknowledge that our more sedentary lifestyles – a product of modern living – do not provide the physical activity that we need to be fit and healthy. We need sport and physical activity in our lives.

Julie Leasor, Merseyside Sports Partnership’s community manager

The fact that obesity doubles during the primary school years from reception year shows that the government must rethink its recent proposals on school dinners and physical activity. It is indictable that we as a nation still have no idea of the ages at which UK children are piling on excess pounds. The fact is that the UK has 9 per cent of 4-5 year olds who are obese and that the number has doubled to 19 per cent by the time they are aged 10-11. The NHS should be using body composition rather than thinking up reasons why it should not be used. Cost is usually its first excuse and decline to consider the cost of doing something as opposed to the cost of doing nothing. In 2007, the Foresight Report set the cost of obesity in 2050 at £50bn per annum if no serious investment was put in hand to stem this epidemic.

Tam Fry, spokesperson National Obesity Forum

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