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Health leaders call for emergency obesity measures

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A group of leading GPs and health experts have called on the government to create an emergency taskforce to quell the rising epidemic of childhood obesity.

In an open letter to Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies – timed to coincide with the start of the new school term – the RCGP and 11 partner organisations recommended that a national Child Obesity Action Group (COAG) be set up as a matter of urgency.

With 28 per cent of two to 15-year-olds overweight or obese according to the latest figures, the health leaders warn that an entire generation will be ‘destroyed’ by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks. They added that the NHS would become completely overwhelmed as a result, echoing a recent Benenden Health report which said the UK health crisis was a ‘ticking time-bomb’ for the health service, which would be left to ‘pick up the pieces.’

Under the RCGP proposals, COAG would involve collaboration between doctors, nurses, midwives, dieticians, dentists and schools. It would aim to balance existing prevention approaches with better obesity treatment services that will support children to make healthy lifestyle choices from a young age to prevent them from storing up health problems for later life.

In the letter to the Chief Medical Officer, health leaders call for a raft of other measures including:

• Increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme

• Improved investment in data-gathering IT programmes for weight management• More training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals

• Outreach projects to educate families about the dangers of obesity

“We cannot allow our young people to become malnourished, squandering their childhood and vitality hunched over computer consoles and gorging on junk food,” said Dr Rachel Pryke, clinical lead for nutrition at the RCGP.

“We have reached a state of emergency with childhood obesity and the current threat to public health is most definitely severe.

“We need the right infrastructure, investment and knowledge to bring about the huge changes that are necessary if we are to protect the next generation. A national Child Obesity Action Group will allow us to call up a ‘battalion’ of health professionals to lead the fight for our children’s health.”

Another recent report by the influential think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs concluded that inactivity, not obesity, is at the root of the UK’s health crisis. The report notes that the average body weight of English adults has increased by two kilograms since 2002, while calorie consumption has fallen four per cent and sugar consumption has slipped nearly 7.5 per cent. Highlighting the decline in physical activity – an ongoing trend since the 1970s – as the reason for weight increase, the report points out that the rise of office jobs and labour saving devices means people have fewer opportunities for physical activity, both at work and at home.

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A group of leading GPs and health experts have called on the government to create an emergency taskforce to quell the rising epidemic of childhood obesity.
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