The UK is struggling to make inroads into the obesity epidemic that is gripping the nation, with no progress on improving nutritional standards in schools, restricting junk food advertising or improving the built environment over the last year, according to leading healthcare professionals who publish the UK's Annual Weigh-In today (28 April 2014).
The Weigh-In marks a year since the Academy of Medical Royal College (AoMRC) launched 'Measuring Up: the medical profession's prescription for the nation's obesity crisis', and rates progress on the 10 recommendations made in the report.
Latest figures show that almost a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese. In adults, 24% of men and 26% of women are classed as obese.
Five of the ten recommendations made in Measuring Up are given a red label a year on, indicating cause for concern:
- Weight management services: the report called for an investment of at least £100m in each of the next three financial years to extend and increase provision of weight management services across the country, to mirror the provision of smoking cessation services. Although there have been some small pilots developed for 3 monthly weigh-ins, the departments of health in the 4 nations have made little progress
- Nutritional standards in schools: Free schools and academies are still exempt - and with more than 2 million children now being educated in free schools or academies it's imperative that these children aren't left behind
- Junk food advertising: The report recommended a ban on advertising foods high in saturated fats, sugar and salt before 9pm and on 'on demand' services. No progress made despite further calls for this by Action on Junk Food Marketing. A cause for concern
- Sugary drinks tax: The report recommended a one year pilot for a 20% sugary drinks tax. No progress, despite further evidence from a joint Oxford and Reading University study in October 2013 that such a measure would be beneficial and CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies adding her support for a potential tax. A coalition of medical experts have formed Action on Sugar to press the food industry and government on the harmful effects of sugar
- The built environment: Public Health England has failed to issue guidance to Directors of Public Health on how to integrate public health considerations into local environments and developments
Professor Terence Stephenson, Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said:
"It's disappointing that we haven't seen more progress over the last year - particularly on some of the areas such as nutritional standards in Academies and Free Schools and junk food advertising. These have the potential to have a real positive impact on childhood obesity at very little cost.
"When we launched these recommendations, we made it clear that the only way to tackle the obesity crisis was by governments, the healthcare professions, schools and individuals taking collective responsibility and working together to change the culture. Whilst we're seeing action in some areas, such as food labelling and training for healthcare professionals, the bold steps needed to have real impact are sadly still missing."
Despite the overall lack of progress, three of the recommendations do get the 'green light', indicating significant process over the last year. These are:
- Food labelling: the recommendation of a unified system of traffic light food labelling for restaurants and fast food outlets came to fruition in June 2013 the Department of Health produced new guidance on nutrition labelling
- Increasing support for new parents: there is progress on 'skilling up' the wider early years workforce to help parents make healthy choices for their children as Health Minister Dan Poulter MP introduced a Healthy Child Programme to sit alongside the NHS Information Guide for Parents and Start4Life schemes
- Education and training programmes for healthcare professionals has been stepped up, including In October 2013 NICE guidelines on Managing overweight and obesity amongst children and young people. The Medical Royal Colleges have also introduced a range of courses on obesity management for child health professionals
Professor Stephenson added:
"As the General Election approaches, we want to see parties of all colours committing to tackle the obesity crisis head on. Without the political will, we risk the country's health budget continuing to be consumed by diseases resulting from an entirely avoidable condition."