Today nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. Reducing obesity levels will save lives as obesity doubles the risk of dying prematurely. Obese adults are seven times more likely to become a type 2 diabetic than adults of a healthy weight which may cause blindness or limb amputation. And not only are obese people more likely to get physical health conditions like heart disease, they are also more likely to be living with conditions like depression.
The economic costs are great, too. We spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service and judicial system combined. It was estimated that the NHS in England spent £5.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014/15.
The burden is falling hardest on those children from low-income backgrounds. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most deprived areas and this is getting worse. Children aged 5 and from the poorest income groups are twice as likely to be obese compared to their most well off counterparts and by age 11 they are three times as likely.
Obesity is a complex problem with many drivers, including our behaviour, environment, genetics and culture. However, at its root obesity is caused by an energy imbalance: taking in more energy through food than we use through activity. Physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits for children, such as muscle and bone strength, health and fitness, improved quality of sleep and maintenance of a healthy weight. There is also evidence that physical activity and participating in organised sports and after school clubs is linked to improved academic performance.
Long-term, sustainable change will only be achieved through the active engagement of schools, communities, families and individuals.
We aim to significantly reduce England’s rate of childhood obesity within the next ten years. We are confident that our approach will reduce childhood obesity while respecting consumer choice, economic realities and, ultimately, our need to eat. Although we are clear in our goals and firm in the action we will take, the launch of this plan represents the start of a conversation, rather than the final word.