Health leaders declare 'State of Emergency' on childhood obesity

Publication date: 31 August 2014

GPs are calling for a COBRA-style emergency taskforce to be set up to tackle the rising epidemic of childhood obesity.

Health Leaders are warning that unless urgent action is taken now, an entire generation will be ‘destroyed’ by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks - and the NHS will be completely overwhelmed as a result.

In an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies - timed to coincide with the start of the new school term - the RCGP and 11  partner organisations are recommending  that a national Child Obesity Action Group (COAG) be set up as a matter of urgency.

COAG will involve collaboration between doctors, nurses, midwives, dieticians, dentists and schools. It aims to balance existing prevention approaches with better obesity treatment services that will support children to make healthy lifestyle choices from a young age to prevent them from storing up health problems for later life.

In the letter to the Chief Medical Officer, health leaders call for a raft of other measures including:

  • Increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme.
  • Improved investment in data-gathering IT programmes for weight management.
  • More training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals.
  • Outreach projects to educate families about the dangers of obesity.

Dr Rachel Pryke, RCGP Clinical Lead for Nutrition said: “The nutritional patterns laid out in early years can define a child’s health for life and the stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems.

“We are in danger of destroying  the health of a whole generation of children. As parents and health professionals, we need to take responsibility and ensure that every child has a healthy and varied diet and regular exercise.

“Many schools are rising to the challenge and doing what they can in terms of education and outreach. Public Health England are already carrying out children measurement schemes and weight-prevention initiatives are widespread - but child obesity treatment provision is a postcode lottery with many areas having limited or no child obesity treatment services at all. Collating these figures is not enough, we need a consistent response to these statistics, right across the country.

“We cannot allow our young people to become malnourished, squandering their childhood and vitality hunched over computer consoles and gorging on junk food.

“We have reached a state of emergency with childhood obesity and the current threat to public health is most definitely ‘severe’.

“We need the right infrastructure, investment and knowledge to bring about the huge changes that are necessary if we are to protect the next generation. A national Child Obesity Action Group  will allow us to call up a ‘battalion’ of health professionals to lead the fight for our children’s health.”

Dr Richard Roope, RCGP Clinical Lead for Cancer said: “For the first time, we have a generation of patients who may  predecease their parents. Only 3% of the public associate weight with cancer,  yet, after smoking, obesity is the biggest reversible factor in cancers.

“Radical steps need to be taken - at the very least levying tax on sugary drinks. We’ve seen this approach work with smoking where there was a notable fall in the number of smokers once prices were increased. 

“GPs and other healthcare professionals are now seeing a range of health problems in children that, in many cases, will develop into serious lifelong illnesses.

“GPs aren’t killjoys – we want all our patients to have healthy and fulfilling lives, whatever age they are- but this crisis is happening and it’s real. We have a huge problem on our hands when seven year olds present in our surgeries with type 2 diabetes - something that was previously only ever associated with the weight gain of middle-age. 

“We are in denial. Our children are currently amongst the most overweight in Europe. This statistic is something that we should all be extremely ashamed of and we all have a responsibility to take action and reverse the trend.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office - 020 3188 7581/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
press@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 49,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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