Tackling Obesity. Shirley Cramer, CBE – Royal Society for Public Health

The UK is facing a childhood obesity crisis. One in five of our children are leaving primary school obese. If it continues to rise then it will overwhelm our National Health Service in future years.

There has been much said regarding the causes and solutions to the problem. However, very few people have actually spoken to children and young people themselves to find out what they think about current policy and potential solutions. This got us thinking; and led us to host a workshop in London where we invited young people from all over the UK to come and share their views. The input we received from the young people would form the basis of a report (The Child’s Obesity Strategy), developed in partnership with Slimming World, that we released just before the publication of the Government’s long-awaited childhood obesity strategy.

We quickly realised at the workshop how engaged, knowledgeable and well-informed young people are if you give them a platform to articulate their thoughts. They shared with us insights into what they saw as the main obstacles to tackling childhood obesity and what measures the Government and others should be taking to tackle the issue. Their suggestions were wide-ranging, original and most importantly, relevant to them and their peers.

One overriding theme was that young people wanted better food labelling. They felt current information wasn’t relevant to their age group and they wanted clearer information on sugar content as well as more explicit health warnings on food about the dangers of overeating. Takeaways were also another target for the young people who felt that the availability of delivering takeaways to school gates probably wasn’t the best idea for combating obesity. They also wanted new restrictions on advertising and making use of free Wifi to promote healthy activities for young people.

Supermarkets were a big talking point too as they felt the retailers should play a greater role in helping to combat obesity in childhood. They proposed positioning unhealthy foods higher on supermarket shelves, giving out free fruit and veg to children in-stores to prevent ‘pester power’ and developing loyalty cards which reward healthier choices.

Finally, many of the young people wanted to see good nutrition taught in schools and the provision of healthy inexpensive snacks for students. They also believed that gyms and leisure centres should be more accessible to people of their age.

The Child’s Obesity Strategy’, reflected the views of young people themselves. It’s easy for policy makers and those working in public health to assume they know what is best for our young people. However, if you take the time to find out what young people think, you discover their ideas and solutions are more original, progressive and compelling than current policy and practice.

Shirley Cramer, CBE is the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health.

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