New report on childhood obesity asks education providers to help more

The Health and Social Care Committee’s report may cause the government to put increased pressure on schools but, with funding so tight, is this possible?

The Health and Social Care Committee has published its latest report on childhood obesity, entitled Childhood obesity: Time for action, which outlines the issues facing British children’s well-being with regard to food habits and fitness.

The Committee hopes that its suggestions will be taken into account by the government when the latest update to the 2016 Child Obesity Action Plan is published. It is estimated that almost a third of children between the ages of two and 15 are overweight or obese, with younger generations becoming obese earlier and remaining so for longer.

Unsurprisingly, this is more of an issue in deprived areas, with five-year-olds from low-income backgrounds twice as likely – and 11-year-olds three times as likely – to be or become obese.

While many of the points in the report are to do with government-level changes such as marketing and tighter regulations on snacks and processed foods, schools will also be expected to play a part. The Health and Social Care Committee wants the narrative around the issue to change, ensuring that we all take responsibility for the problem – and education providers may play a key role here.

One point the report makes is that there should be systems in place for identifying and supporting children who are overweight and obese in ways that can be applied to their home lives as well as at school.

The Committee recommends that the government puts into place more robust measures around early years and the first 1,000 days of life, which should include targets to improve child health including – but not limited to – the combatting of childhood obesity using all school-centred measures within the original childhood obesity plan.

NAHT has also spoken out on the release of the report, with Valentine Mulholland, head of policy for the union stating that, with school funds stretched so thinly, there is a limit to how big a part schools can play in this issue:

“Schools have a role to play in teaching healthy behaviours and encouraging pupils to develop good habits, but they are only part of the picture when it comes to children’s health.

“Schools encourage physical activity and healthy eating in a wide variety of ways, including their use of the nutritional standards for school lunches, PSHE and PE lessons and sugary drinks polities. But funding cuts and a high-stakes accountability regime has narrowed the curriculum in schools to focus on certain subjects, reducing the time available for physical activity and teaching children about healthy eating and lifestyle choices.

“Our members tell us that children’s mental and physical health is losing out as budgets and the curriculum come under increased pressure.”

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