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Healthy weight, healthy futures Local government action to tackle childhood obesity (update 2018)

Case studies

Childhood obesity is one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century. At the start of primary school one in 10 children are obese and by the end, that has increased to one in five. If you include those who are overweight, the rates rise to a more than a fifth and a third respectively.

Those growing up in the most deprived communities are at the greatest risk. The chances of being obese are about twice that of those who live in the least deprived areas. It is an ‘obesity gap’ that has been getting wider over the past decade.

The data – compiled as part of the National Child Measurement Programme – suggests our approach in local government needs to be two-fold: not only should we be running population-wide interventions, but we also need to be intensively targeting those most at risk. It is undoubtedly a challenge. But as the local examples in this report shows, it can be done.

We are seeing councils up and down the country trying a host of innovative approaches. This document updates the Local Government Association’s (LGA) previous ‘Healthy weight, healthy futures: Local government action to tackle childhood obesity’ publication (February 2016). It showcases the wide variety of ways, and different partners, that the sector is working with their colleagues in planning to not only restrict takeaways, but also working proactively to ensure new developments take into account health and wellbeing. Some are focussing on getting children physically active and the latest figures suggest less than one in four children are achieving the required levels.

Meanwhile, others are concentrating on food and diet. In doing so, they are forging important partnerships with early years settings, schools, community groups and local businesses. But the evidence from councils suggests we should be prepared to be tough too. Liverpool City Council has taken on the food industry, by naming and shaming products that are high in sugar.

What comes across loud and clear is that if we are going to make progress as a nation on obesity – the best we can say at the moment is that rates are no longer rising in the way they were. The solution lies in developing a whole-system approach and that should now be our priority.

Two years ago the Government published its child obesity strategy, promising in the next decade obesity rates will start to fall. Steps are being taken at a national level and the introduction of the levy on sugary drinks this year is an example of that.

But the success of the drive will rest and fall on what is done on a local level. If we succeed, the benefits will be felt for generations to come.

Obese and overweight children are more likely to suffer low self-esteem and anxiety. As they get older and move into adulthood, obesity leads to a higher risk of a whole host of health problems from type 2 diabetes and cancer to heart disease.