Childhood obesity is a serious issue, both in terms of the range of health problems it is associated with and the cost burden it places on the NHS and the UK economy.
To tackle this problem, the Government have set a public service agreement target,
“to halt, by 2010, the year-on-year increase in obesity among children under 11 in the context of a broader strategy to tackle obesity in the population as whole”.
This target is the joint responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
There is no single cause of obesity but at its core is an imbalance between calories in and calories out. As such, there is no one intervention for obesity and a wide variety of government programmes make a valuable contribution to tackling it. Joint cross-departmental programme management arrangements have been established to drive action to meet this target which will be delivered using a three-tiered approach:
universal programmes aimed at prevention;
early intervention for those at risk of being overweight/obese; and
targeted health interventions for those already obese.
The first tier comprises universal programmes aimed at reversing obesity trends and creating a positive environment for healthy eating and physical activity. Policy initiatives within this tier include the Healthy Schools programme, the “5 a Day” campaign, the Healthy Start scheme, the school fruit and vegetable scheme, statutory nutritional standards for food in schools, restrictions on the advertising and food promotion to children of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, increasing the amount of time pupils spend on high-quality PE and school sport, and encouraging walking and cycling to school through school travel plans and walking-bus schemes.
The second tier comprises early interventions targeted at groups of children (and their parents) at higher risk of being overweight and obese. For example, we will be working with school sports partnerships in areas of higher obesity prevalence to engage overweight/obese children in physical activity, and we have agreed in principle an objective with the School Food Trust to similarly target some of their activity.
The third tier comprises public health treatment interventions specifically aimed at helping obese children and families to lose weight and become healthier. We will be working with PCTs, local authorities, schools and other delivery partners to ensure that recommendations from the new clinical guidance on the treatment of obesity, published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in December last year, are developed and incorporated in our approach.
In the spring we will be launching a social marketing campaign aimed at influencing behaviour change in parents and encouraging them to build healthier lifestyles for their children and families.
Fundamental to the success of the programme will be the need to work in partnership with public bodies, the private sector, individuals and families (notably children and parents), and ensure obesity interventions are based on the best available evidence using an action-learning approach.
Obesity is now included as a performance management indicator within the performance management framework for PCTs, and we are encouraging local authorities to include measures to reduce childhood obesity in their local area agreements.