Rising childhood obesity 'a growing concern' in Suffolk

Suffolk County Council shared that 11.7% of reception children were overweight and 8.8% obese in 201

Suffolk County Council's health scrutiny committee has been told that childhood obesity is a "growing concern" in the region. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Childhood obesity has risen again across Suffolk while Covid-19 has had a big impact on work to deal with the problems.

Latest data available - from school year 2020/21 - shows that 29.7% of Reception year pupils are now overweight or obese compared with 21.6% the previous year, an 8% rise.

Of these children, 4.5% were "severely obese" compared with 1.9% the previous year.

A report to Suffolk County Council's health scrutiny committee said the pandemic has "taken focus away" from the issue and there is now a "growing concern" in the region about child health, while the cost-of-living crisis could affect family's healthy eating choices.

Council officials say the project launched in 2019 to tackle childhood obesity has produced some positive signs and has encouraged participation in exercise.

The health scrutiny committee covering report said: “In Suffolk, childhood obesity is a growing concern, with National Childhood Measurement Programme data indicating that the numbers of children who are overweight or obese is continuing to rise.

"Evidence suggests that obese children and adolescents are not only more likely to become obese adults but are also at increased risk of developing associated physical health problems and psychosocial conditions from an early age.

"Obesity can have a negative effect on children’s emotional health and wellbeing through stigmatisation and low self-esteem which can also lead to poorer levels of educational attainment and impact upon life chances."

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The report says that despite the Tackling Childhood Obesity in Suffolk Action Plan, which was formed in September 2019, "concerns remain" about the levels of childhood obesity in Suffolk.

It said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on progress and taken focus away from this issue.  

“There are concerns regarding the sustainability of initiatives due to finance and system capacity. 

“The numbers of children overweight or obese in Suffolk continues to increase and data from the Active Lives Survey shows a high proportion of children still do not meet the recommended physical activity guidelines for children and young people."

However, the health scrutiny committee was also informed that some areas of the plan were going well via the childhood obesity strategy evidence set document, directed by director of public health and communities, Stuart Keeble.

Suffolk director of public health Stuart Keeble

Suffolk director of public health Stuart Keeble - Credit: Suffolk County Council

These included sugar reduction schemes in school meals, healthy eating campaigns including cooking lessons for parents, as well as school programmes aimed at educating youngsters about healthy eating.

The document also reiterated that the Covid-19 pandemic had hindered the progress of the plan, and that there is concern as overweight and obesity levels increased during the pandemic.

Another concern raised by the document said: "The recent and forthcoming rises in cost-of-living expenses such as food, fuel and heating, and changes to national insurance payments, are likely to make it more difficult for some families to make healthy diet and food choices."

The document also made some suggestions to the committee for areas to focus on to try and tackle the issue of childhood obesity.

These included: "Further exploration as to how the wider Suffolk system can address the obesogenic environment, looking at wider opportunities to improve the food environment and promote affordable healthy food.

"This includes addressing the concerns such as the number and location of fast food takeaways and clear messaging about healthy diet.

“Consider how recent and future rises in the cost of living influence diet, lifestyle, and healthy eating, and encourage the wider system to seek to mitigate some of the impact."

It also said that: “The pandemic has stalled the implementation of some initiatives in the action plan and system working.

"Key leaders, managers, officers, and partners have been directly involved in the Covid-19 response, reducing availability and capacity.    

“We need a sustained plan of work, and some elements of the work will need to be repeated such as sugar reduction and healthy eating campaigns. There are also opportunities to tighten our links and communications to national campaigns.  

“There is a strategic responsibility of the council to support initiatives and raise the profile of healthy behaviours."

Mr Keeble's document also took a look at the stats around childhood obesity in Suffolk and said: “Local data from Suffolk shows that more deprived areas such as Ipswich and the former Forest Heath Council area have higher levels of overweight and very overweight children compared to more affluent areas."