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Over a third of children aged 10-11 in England are overweight or obese

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 04 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5948

Re: Over a third of children aged 10-11 in England are overweight or obese

The case for acting on childhood obesity continues to gather momentum with the latest figures from the child measurement programme further reinforcing the need for urgent comprehensive action across a variety of settings. (1)

There is strong evidence from a range of sources which indicate that childhood obesity is a major public health problem.(2-6) Mortality and morbidity data clearly show both the increasing scale of the problem and the need for action. The economic case is also strong and this can be argued in relation to costs to children and their families and the NHS. In addition, children living in deprivation in England are more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese compared to their counterparts living in more affluent households.(7)

In deciding priorities it is also important to consider the views of different professional groups. A wide range of organisations now recommend that childhood obesity should be prioritised and that there is need for urgent action.(2, 5-8) The case is further strengthened by the fact that there are effective interventions waiting to be implemented.(6)

Doctors and nurses have crucial roles to play in curbing this obesity crisis, however they will not succeed on their own. Overall we believe that the overarching need is to change obesogenic environments that currently encourage unhealthy behaviour.

It is positive that the government’s obesity plan “represents a start of a conversation, rather than the final word”, as we now need a comprehensive long term strategy with challenging targets to tackle this issue.(9) It is essential that this involves key players including the food manufacturing and retail sectors, NHS and local government organisations. In addition, a dramatic increase in public health activity is required. Initial action should focus on five clear priorities:

1. Introduce compulsory PHSE lessons in all schools and encourage health promoting schools.
2. Tackle advertising in the mass media.
3. Encourage appropriate portion sizes.
4. Introduce compulsory standardised simple labelling on food and drinks.(10)
5. Ensure that the NHS leads by example.(11)

1) Mayor S. Over a third of children aged 10-11 in England are overweight or obese. BMJ 2016;355:i5948

2) World Health Organization, Global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004.

3) Lobstein T, Baur L, Uauy R. Obesity in children and young people: a crisis in public health. Obesity Reviews, 2004, 5(Suppl 1):4–104.

4) Foresight. Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report. Government Office for Science: London. 2007

5) Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Measuring Up: The Medical Profession’s Prescription for the Nations Obesity Crisis. London: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges 2013.

6) BMA Food for thought: promoting healthy diets among children and young people. London: BMA 2015.

7) Public Health England. Patterns and trends in childhood obesity. PHE 2016.

8) Diabetes UK. Position Statement. Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes: Whole-society Interventions to Reduce Obesity. London: Diabetes UK 2015.

9) Watson M and Lloyd J. Taxing sugar should be just one element of a multifaceted campaign BMJ 2015;351:h4388

10) Watson M 2013 Consistent food labelling system is rolled out across UK. BMJ Rapid Response 23rd June 2013.

11) Watson M and Lloyd J, 2013 It’s time to ban junk food on hospital premises. BMJ Rapid Response 1st July 2013.

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 November 2016
Michael Craig Watson
Associate Professor in Public Health,
Sue Thompson, Secretary Institute of Health Promotion and Education, Welwyn AL6 0UD, UK.
University of Nottingham, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham. NG7 2HA