Childhood obesity a “time bomb”

Public Health England estimates that a quarter of children between two and ten years old are overweight or obese. There is a strong relationship between obese children and adults who have grown up and are overweight. Records show that obesity among children starting their first year of primary school has risen for the second year in a row and results from a survey of more than 1 million pupils across England, show 32.4% of girls and 36.1% of boys in the final primary school year are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, the children in deprived areas are much likely to be obese than those from affluent areas.

As the children grow obesity increases the risk of many health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, cancers, depression and anxiety.  Estimates suggest obesity cost the NHS over £5 billion a year.

There is no single solution to obesity, and sustained actions are required to change poor diets. The government says that obesity is a priority and they have made efforts to introduce a soft drinks levy and sugar reduction programme. The government, however, needs to act on adverts for unhealthy foods and junk food.

Responding to analysis from the LGA that concluded 1 in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Judith Jolly said

“This analysis should sound an alarm bell within Whitehall. Healthy eating and lifestyle choices start in childhood, but too many children are starting down the wrong path.

“The national obesity crisis is putting significant strain on our NHS. Unless action is taken we are sitting on an obesity time bomb that will only increase pressure on services.

“Liberal Democrats would develop a strategy to tackle childhood obesity, including more money for active travel, restricting the marketing of junk food to children and closing loopholes in the sugary drinks tax.

* Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team and the Chair of the English Party

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15 Comments

  • There is a correlation between children living in deprived areas and being obese. This is of course because unhealthy food is cheap and healthy food is expensive. Many families do not have enough money to live healthy lives, not that is that they keep one or more stressful and poorly paid jobs, suffer the problems of expensive housing and so on. An answer to this and many other problems is to ensure that children do not have to live in poverty.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '18 - 12:13pm

    @Tom Harney “This is of course because unhealthy food is cheap and healthy food is expensive.”
    A problem with that statement is that it almost invites people to leap in with claims about how they utilise a range of strategies to eat healthily for pennies per week and the debate is then derailed by allotments, bulk cooking, etc.
    There appears to be a correlation between obesity and poverty but surely it is far more complex and nuanced than just the price of food and addressing the problem needs some new ways of thinking about it.

  • Spencer Hagard 30th May '18 - 12:42pm

    The link is not straightforwardly: poverty -> intake of cheap (unhealthy) food -> obesity. The chronic stresses of social and economic inequalities, in many cases beginning in the womb, and frequently reinforced by multiple struggles to survive (educational, work, etc), predispose to obesity irrespective of diet. The UK will never be able to resolve the tragedy of widespread overweight and obesity unless it radically reverses the massive inequalities of wealth and income that have built over the last 40 years.
    Multiple other measures will clearly be needed, including not only tighter foodstuffs legislation and regulation, as cited by Judith Jolly, but also the restoration of comprehensive health promotion, which was destroyed by the 1997-2010 Labour government.
    But the foundation for success lies in radically reversing inequalities, and Liberal Democrats should be proclaiming this and putting forward effective policies to achieve it.

  • John Marriott 30th May '18 - 1:46pm

    The dilemma for those who class themselves as Liberals is how ‘nanny state’ they are prepared to be. Do you ban tobacco products and alcohol as well as sugary foods and drinks, or do you leave it to people to make an informed choice?

    Please don’t drag the argument down to poverty and deprivation. Rich people like ‘bad’ food as well. It’s really about your choice. Perhaps, when all else fails, we are once again back to ‘education, education, education’.

  • John Marriott 30th May ’18 – 1:46pm…………..Please don’t drag the argument down to poverty and deprivation. Rich people like ‘bad’ food as well. It’s really about your choice. Perhaps, when all else fails, we are once again back to ‘education, education, education’………..

    But it is ‘poverty and deprivation’… Alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. are far more prevalent among those at the bottom.
    Cheap fattening foods are there for the same reasons…’Comfort eating’ is just another way of dealing with the stress, depression, hopelessness of being ‘at the bottom’.

    No-one gets comfort from muesli, vegetable crudites and fat free yoghurts.

  • Thank you for your comment Peter Watson. Of course things are more complicated but I was commenting on the statement by Tahir Maher that children in deprived areas are more likely than children in affluent areas to be obese. So the difference is one of relative wealth or relative poverty. As far as food is concerned I am asserting that to eat cheaply results in a diet which is not healthy. Cheap foods are rich in processed carbohydrates. In particular sugar in a variety of guises is put into a huge range of products. Yes I am asserting there is an obvious link – and it is causative.
    By the way I not really keen on the reference to deprived areas. It is people who are deprived not areas. I am unhappy about the use of the figures often quoted of death rates of an as if they were the life expectancy of babies born there. In fact of course we don’t know where the babies will die. We need to look at the life journeys of the people who die is the area. For example areas with substantial social housing. When I was on a housing association board we had criteria for housing. Top was homelessness but health was up there. People given houses were poor – and poor health is often a main factor in low income. My opinion is that in general poor health tends to result in poverty. Which of course results in even worse health.
    As far as dragging the argument down, and thank you John Marriott for you comments, I do not think that it is reasonable to typify an opinion one doesn’t agree with in this way. The evidence is overwhelming. Poverty is linked to poor health. Poor diet is a link. The evidence is overwhelming. In order to make choices you need the resources.

  • Hmm…

    I think this is complicated! Clearly poverty does not “cause” obesity – at least on its own. The independent fact checking website fullfact says that since the 1990s which is the baseline – absolute child poverty has gone down and relative child poverty is static – may be down a touch. but as has been noted obesity has gone up considerably.

    https://fullfact.org/economy/poverty-uk-guide-facts-and-figures/

    Also independent of income, those living in urban areas and most BAME ethnicities have higher levels of childhood obesity. But both these categories are poorer in general.

    But…

    Arguably the environment has got more obesogenic – causing obesity – than it was in the 70s and 80s for the general population and for poorer people in particular and may also affect them more as being under more stress etc. More cars, more fast food joints and while they are actually considerably safer, a greater unwillingness to let children cycle or walk outside. In my childhood (! – violins at the ready!!!), my parents never took me to McDonalds and I can only remember them buying a takeaway twice for me and the family during the whole of my childhood! Both would be pretty much unheard of across all the social classes.

    It is also interesting why poorer sections should be more prone to obesity than others – part (but only part) is the environment. And indeed obviously in Victorian times and the first part of the 20th century – the opposite would be the case with poorer people being underweight. Quite a lot of the reason is I believe sugar. We don’t come fitted with “caloriemeters” and it is easy to drink quite a lot of a sugary drink and to a degree sugary foods and you get few satiation signals to stop – volume, protein, fibre (which slows the absorption of sugar) . And because we have to keep blood sugar levels highly controlled we also convert and store it very quickly. But we also love sugary foods as when we found fruit etc. as cavemen (and women) it was important to eat it – and pretty much there and then!

    It is worth looking up the youtube videos of Gary Taubes etc. – a lot of what he says is also factually wrong or inaccurate but there is probably a kernel of truth there.

  • John Marriott 30th May '18 - 4:20pm

    @expats
    You and I will just have to disagree. Gluttony or the liking of a stiff drink know no cultural or societal boundaries. Stop making excuses for what some might term ‘human weakness’. You can jump on the ‘blame the rich’ bandwagon if you want; but you won’t find me there! I gather that Trump lives on so called junk food. So, is it rather a matter of intelligence rather than poverty?

  • @John Marriott

    Obesity or being overweight is far, far more than just “human weakness”. In my view it starts on an individual level from it is a very, very sensible human adaptation that it is sensible to eat when there is food around – because for most of human history famine and shortage of food was just round the corner. In addition fat cells make a hormone called leptin – when leptin goes down which it does if you lose weight, food seems more attractive in the medium term – it is one reason why people put the weight back on after 80%+ of diets.

    The analogy is similar to tobacco. It is everyone’s individual choice whether to smoke or not. But it is clear that making the environment – shall we say… um… – more hostile to tobacco – advertising restrictions, tax, public ban on smoking and education etc. has helped saved many millions of lives and many millions from getting horrible diseases. As with obesity, poorer people are more likely to smoke – it doesn’t “cause” smoking but it is a risk factor.

    Similarly with food – and we all have to eat so it is probably more complex and it is an “addictive” process – in that we all have to “addicted” to eating or we die. But making the environment less “obesogenic” – better facilities for cycling, walking etc. education and health promotion and advertising restrictions and also recognising that poverty is a “risk factor” for obesity – both in people’s individual more stressful and difficult lives and in that they are more likely to live in urban environments where it is more “obesogenic” and there is more obesity.

  • John Marriott 30th May ’18 – 4:20pm……………@expats…………….You and I will just have to disagree. Gluttony or the liking of a stiff drink know no cultural or societal boundaries. Stop making excuses for what some might term ‘human weakness’. You can jump on the ‘blame the rich’ bandwagon if you want; but you won’t find me there! I gather that Trump lives on so called junk food. So, is it rather a matter of intelligence rather than poverty?…………..

    So obesity is caused by ‘gluttony; well that’s a new excuse..You seem to have a penchant for answering questions that were never asked. Perhaps you have an answer as to why all statistical studies point remorselessly towards obesity being a symptom with an underlying social cause, i.e. poverty. It is no coincidence that of the 10 worst areas in terms of overweight or obese children, half are also in the worst 10 for child poverty.

    As for my blaming the rich; where did I mention them?

  • John Marriott 30th May '18 - 10:34pm

    @expats
    If you eat too much, you can get fat. Isn’t that down to gluttony? Wouldn’t a Liberal argue that it was your choice? However, should we be happy that our citizens, particularly the young, are getting fatter? Of course not.

    But how, in a so called free society, do you encourage people to stick to a balanced diet, especially with large amounts of money being made by the food and drinks industry, with the right amount of physical exercise (which in excess can itself increase your appetite) without resorting to diktat, which is surely an illiberal concept? So it’s surely a dilemma for both rich AND poor alike.

  • Is it a time bomb.
    I look around. I don’t see that many fat kids. What I see a lot of is desire for control that extends to what strangers eat from those who seem to want technocrats to govern every possible aspect of day to day life for other people. There are also weird contradictions. Someone you know who is, say, politically active within your own circle and large is standing against the pressure to conform to the values of conventional society , but if they’re “the other” they’re simply hapless. It’s a sort of choices for me, compulsion for thee thing.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 31st May '18 - 6:33am

    Thank you all for your comments. For me I believe there is some tentative correlation between social standing and the likelihood of a child being over weight. However for me it’s more a question of education namely informing kids to get out and run, play football or get involved in some sporting activity. It won’t really matter after that how much they eat.

  • It is possible to cook/eat cheaply and well – as Jack Monroe proved in her Girl Called Jack recipe blog. Availability of good ingredients can be an issue in ‘food deserts’ but I don’t see any proposals to address this; oh, no; banning things is much more fun. Fact is also that we are consuming many fewer calories than in the past but doing massively less physical activity: why? because of people using cars for every conceivable journey. The high sunk costs/low marginal costs of cars and the high costs of public transport lead to this, but I don’t see anything on cheap bus fares proposed: oh, no; it’s more fun to ban things. And because parents don’t allow their kids to go out and play and walk anywhere because of a (possibly partly justified) fear of crime against them – but (sorry!) I don’t see anything on addressing personal crime on the streets in anyone’s proposals, just massive, expensive and ineffectual traffic engineering schemes.

    We are laughing at Trump today for meeting Kim Kardashian on penal policy, but our food policy is currently being made by a Mockney chef with a failing restaurant chain whose recipes are larded with the very sugar and fat he claims to abhor.

  • What would lead us to call some foods unhealthy. In the case of refined sugar it is not a question of whether eating sugar is dangerous, but the fact that hidden refined sugar is in so many of the processed foods. However there are some real dangers in foods. The fact is that increasingly chemicals are used liberally in the production of foodstuffs, or growing crops as it used to be. These are absorbed by the plants, and of course excess is washed off the soil and eventually some into our water supply. We eat the poison. Our bodies can deal with small amounts but it is not healthy in the longer term. We have poisoned air, poisoned food poisoned drink. Now and again the publicity shines on one particular issue, as it did recently on plastics.
    However what has poverty got to do with it. If you have the resources you can make choices. Otherwise you can’t. It is as simple as that.

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