Councils ‘need greater tools to tackle childhood obesity’

30 May 18

MPs and a local government umbrella-body have called for greater funding and powers for councils to tackle childhood obesity.

Amongst children in England aged between 10 and 11, 4.1% were severely obese in 2016-17 and 2.35% aged four and five, analysis of Public Health England figures by the Local Government Association has highlighted. 

Separately, a health and social care committee, published today, called for a ‘whole systems approach’ to tackling childhood obesity and urged the government to give local authorities more financial support and powers to tackle the issue.

Sarah Wollaston, chair of the committee, said: “Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer.

“The consequences for these children are appalling and this can no longer be ignored.”

The report called for “government funding for local authorities to make available effective interventions to support families with pre-school children most at risk of obesity”.

The LGA research, published yesterday, blamed the £600m reduction in councils’ public health budgets between 2015-16 and 2019-20 as a contributing factor to rising child obesity.

The report asked for the reduction in public health grants to be reserved and “further reforms to tackle childhood obesity”.

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Cuts to councils’ public health grants by government are having a significant impact on the many prevention and early intervention services carried out by councils to combat child obesity.

“This short-sighted approach risks causing NHS costs to snowball due to the ill health consequences of obesity in our younger generation.”  

Obesity across the population is costing the NHS more than £5bn annually, according to the LGA. 

The LGA also wants councils to have a say on how and where the soft drinks levy is spent.

Wollaston noted that obesity rates are highest for children from the most disadvantaged communities.

The select committee report calls for a childhood obesity plan that “focuses particularly on tackling the ever-widening health inequality due to childhood obesity between the richest and poorest areas”.

The government is expected to publish an updated version of the childhood obesity plan, first published in the summer of 2016, shortly.

The committee also asked for councils to have increased planning and licensing powers to stop “the proliferation” of fast-food outlets from being set up in their areas.

Other recommendations from the report included a 9pm watershed for junk food adverts, extending the sugar tax to milk-based drinks and regulation on discounting and price promotions of ‘unhealthy’ food and drink.  

The LGA looked at data collected in 2016-17 in Public Heath England’s national child measurement programme.

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