Tackling childhood obesity is in many countries agendas and quite rightly so. Last week I presented to the leaders of childhood obesity from many European and Asian countries. It was a great opportunity to represent the College of Medicine at the Healthy Kids of Seinäjoki Conference in Finland in my capacity as the Lead for their Food Programme. I presented on Social Prescribing and Food on Prescription in creating the ability for everyone to access solutions to improve their wellbeing and become more confident in taking control of their own health. What got everyone engaged though was when I shared some home truths to the international audience re our own childhood obesity crisis:
- Britain has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe and, shockingly, we now have a higher proportion of children classed as obese at the age of 11 than in the US
- Nearly 40 percent of children aged 10 and 11 in London are overweight or obese
Despite talking about this for some time there has been no real action taken and that which has, is in my view just scratching the surface – eg sugar tax. There’s no doubt that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb that, if ignored, could do irreparable damage to the health, educational achievements and future opportunities available to millions of children in the UK.
We need to act now but in a smart way. An example of this is Finland where what started as a project for Seinajorki, a city of 75k people, has now become a way of life across the country where all stakeholders – parents, children, public and private health organisations work together in a highly engaged and collaborative effort to do the right thing in creating a healthy future for their children.
We don’t yet have the framework or national commitment to do something as comprehensive but we desperately need it. A very recent example of good intent but not executed in the best way is the Mayor of London’s decision on 11th March to ban adverts for harmful, unhealthy junk food and drink from the Transport for London network.
The root causes of obesity are complex but the solutions to healthy eating shouldn’t be. The solutions for our children rely upon us taking a far stronger approach in many areas to support parents, particularly those who need it the most – ie are least likely to be able to access healthy eating, afford it or even want it.
We started Sano to enable people to Learn, Eat and Cook so that they are able to take greater control of their own health. Heather and I as the Nutrition and Food Leads respectively for the College of Medicine are aligned with the College on mission and values. We all have a huge vested interest in providing a healthier future for our children. It’s going to be a big part of all our agendas this year and beyond!
CEO Sano, Food Lead College of Medicine