Creating a Better Future for Children
Updated: Jan 22, 2022
If the current rate of obesity doubles (1 in 4 to 1 in 2) in the UK then the cost to the economy including the NHS will be £50 billion a year. Of course, more than the financial implications is the cost to health.
Already 1/3 of ten year olds are overweight to the point it is affecting their wellness including an increased risk of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases such as diabetes type 2, heart disease, asthma, as well as an association with depression etc. Longterm their lives could be curtailed by obesity and the associated risk of earlier death. It saddens me. It's easy to point fingers but it's not a simple equation. There are a number of factors including a lack of movement and processed foods
Schools have had to cut break (recess) time down in order to meet government targets in other areas of the curriculum. The pressure is on from a very early age to use academics rather than free play. Today many 4 year olds are doing desk work and many high school students only get a 1 x 15 minute break plus a 30-minute lunch each day. This does not leave much time for play and movement which studies cite are essential to healthy cognitive development and wellbeing.
As a child, I grew up with 2 x 15 minute breaks per day and we had a 1-hour lunchtime which gave us time to digest our food as well as move, hang out and play. We had playing fields and a playground and were able to move around a lot with big playing fields. We often had 'wet breaks' so even if it was raining we were either outside or in the sports hall. Many of the students would find time to kick a ball around during their breaks or would walk and run around the school grounds.
PE has also been cut. As much as I hated PE we had it several times a week and this resulted again in more overall movement. We also got to walk to school; for many children now this is rare as school catchment areas often are not near enough to where their pupils reside.
There are a number of after or before school clubs but often these are aimed at those who are good at sports and for many children it would be nice to see more activities in the school day that allow for natural and playful movement. On the end of a regular school day an after school club that involves exercise is not a substitute for functional movement that needs to occur during the day.
The vitamin D equation (low sunlight = lower metabolic processes = hibernation mode for the body = obesity) is also a factor. With our often not so great weather plus being as far north as we are we have limited days where we can receive adequate vitamin D levels. Less time to be outdoors and more travelling in cars and being indoors means further reductions in this essential vitamin.
Processed foods are also a huge factor. These foods are often full of everything we do not need to be healthy. Sugar is so easily available it is added to processed foods and despite campaigns to curb its availability and lower levels we still have a long way to go.
The UK also has low breastfeeding rates. In the UK around 1% of infants will continue to be breastfed for the recommended 6 months which is worrying given that the scientific
data on it is very clear around links to obesity and even the most scientific people will ignore this and protect their formula stance which I often find baffling.
Again this is not about blame and shame but it is interesting how politics and social pressures around food and movement can lead to epidemics of health issues. To resolve it we need to see a focus on play and natural movement, ensure that schools are all seen as high quality so that people do not have to fight to get into one outside their catchment area, resulting in more traffic and also to have policies that protect younger children from heavily processed foods. This also needs to ensure that poverty is not a factor. Many parents do their best yet it can be hard to feed highly nutritious food if there are higher costs and also time to do so is a premium because of working hours.