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CMO report: 10 recommendations to end childhood obesity

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Children's health and a healthy environment must come above company profits
– Dame Sally Davies

The outgoing Chief medical officer, professor Dame Sally Davies, has called for urgent action across the industry – and the public sector – to help the government reach its target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.

In a hard-hitting report, entitled Time to Solve Childhood Obesity, professor Davies sets out 10 recommendations, each of which are supported by a wide range of detailed actions.

Aiming the report at politicians and policymakers "now and in the future”, Davies writes: "Politicians, I call on all of you across the political spectrum to come together and take action.

"The health of our children is in your hands. You can take action because you, on behalf of our society shape our environment.

"You can – and must – take action now to ensure that our children have the opportunity to run, bike and play safely; have access to healthy and affordable food; and are protected from the marketing of unhealthy foods."

Among the recommendations is a call to ensure that the built environment encourages physical activity.

She also proposes a ban on promoting and advertising junk food – which would prevent deals such as the controversial sponsorship deal agreed this month by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and KP Snacks for the "Hundred" competition next year.

"Children are constantly exposed to advertising for unhealthy food and drink," Davies said. "Companies often use children’s cartoon characters and sponsorship of major sporting events to market these items, casting them as the shining star in children’s minds."

The 10 recommendations, in full, are:

• Rebalance the food and drinks sold to favour healthy options, through regulation.

• Allow children to grow up free from marketing, signals and incentives to consume unhealthy food and drinks.

• Introduce innovative policies that find the win-wins for children’s health and the private sector: E.g. continue private sector sponsorship of major sporting events, facilities and stars, but only allow advertising and sales of their most healthy products on site.

• Invest in and design the built environment to create opportunities for children to be active and healthy.

• Take action to improve: exercise and healthy weight in pregnancy, breastfeeding rates, and infant feeding.

• Ensure schools and nurseries play a central role, supported by Ofsted monitoring. Teachers know that being overweight impacts on children’s lives and they need support to do the right things. Food, drink and physical activity standards should be set and adhered to in all schools and nurseries.

• Ensure our NHS and health sector workforce can deliver what our children and families need to prevent, manage and treat obesity, including having conversations about weight and tackling weight-related stigma.

• Make better use of data to guide practice: e.g. systematically link and share data on children’s weight to intervene early; share private sector data, such as supermarket sales data, with policymakers and researchers

• Protect and prioritise our children’s health and rights while making trade deals. Their health and a healthy environment must come above company profits.

• Develop the evidence base to inform practice and policy

The report also details a number of actions for each recommendation.

The physical activity sector has welcomed the report and the emphasis it places on measures to get children more active.

Responding to the report, Jack Shakespeare, ukactive director of children, young people, families and research, said: "We are pleased to see a firm focus in this report on children and their families, as well as expectant and new mothers, being more physically active.

“Obesity is a complex issue and there is no silver bullet, but physical activity is a major part of the solution. Children who are obese often become obese adults, and are likely to develop serious health problems that will shorten their lives, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

“Now is the time for government to commit to investing in active travel infrastructure and ‘active networks’ within communities – utilising all local facilities to help make being physically active a positive and meaningful part of everyday life.

“We urge the government to help scale our ‘Schools as Community Hubs’ model across the country, providing subsidised clubs with nutritious food and physical activities led by experts from across the sector, to help improve the health and wellbeing of our children and young people, both in and out of school."

• To download and read the full report, click here.

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The outgoing chief medical officer, professor Dame Sally Davies, has called for urgent action across the industry – and the public sector – to help the government reach its target of halving childhood obesity by 2030.
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