Earlier this year, the National Obesity Forum released tips and advice for helping to keep children and young people active and healthy, and encouraged people to get involved as part of an awareness week drive. Efforts included putting up healthy eating posters around schools, directing children and parents towards free advice, and some even set up their own events. In January of 2017, we updated our library of planner page ideas to include the government’s Eatwell Guide.
Almost a third of children aged 2 to 15 are classed as overweight or obese. That’s a staggering statistic. Children are trending towards obesity at younger ages than ever before, and this is carrying through into adulthood. In 2007, the government predicted that, if nothing was done to stop this trend, over half of the UK population would be obese by 2050. Consider that the children of today will be the adults of tomorrow, and this prediction isn’t far-fetched.
Obesity costs the NHS – and the taxpayer – more than the judicial system and the police and fire services combined. This is having an impact on school funding; the DfE recently released a report that shows that, on average, £37 less is being spent on each pupil than last year. Of course, there are other factors at play here, but the increased spending on NHS funding will have a detrimental impact on all public services, including education.
An unhealthy diet can have far-reaching implications for children in ways that you might not necessarily expect. Public Health England released a report in 2013 that concluded that poor eating habits in children can have a notable negative effect on short-term cognition and memory. Practising healthy eating habits with family can be massively beneficial to children’s wellbeing. Children who eat regularly with their family learn positive social behaviours, and are generally more happy than children who don’t.
‘This is an ongoing war, with schools and teachers on the frontline.’
Regular exercise and physical activity also has unexpected benefits for children. Public Health England found that the more children exercised, the better their ability to concentrate. Participation in organised sports may also be linked to improved academic performance.
This is also an issue of inequality, as spiralling obesity figures are hitting disadvantaged children the hardest. Five-year-olds from deprived backgrounds are twice as likely to have obesity than other children in their cohort; by the time they turn 11, this gap widens to three times as likely. This means that they are also suffering all of the negative effects of childhood obesity, including low self-esteem and a decrease in academic performance. Childhood obesity is widening the socio-economic divide.
Any way you look at it, it’s clear that England is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. New governmental policies will go some way to tackling the issue, as they plan to levy soft drinks and confectionary manufacturers to lower their products’ sugar content – money which will help to fund countermeasures in schools.
Moving forwards into the new year and 2018, the government will be using money from the soft drink levy to push budgeting advice to schools to help their pupils develop a healthier lifestyle. While it’s unlikely that this advice will be helpful to every school – it won’t take into account local socio-economic and political factors – it at least demonstrates an immediate commitment to tackling the obesity issue. They are also pledging to allocate £10 million a year towards healthy breakfast clubs in schools, which may help to alleviate the widening socio-economic divide.
Ofsted is also getting involved. There will be a tighter focus on Primary PE and Sport premium spending and how these funds are used to benefit pupils’ wellbeing. From September 2017, the government will be introducing a voluntary Ofsted-monitored “healthy rating” scheme for primary schools, which will also take into account parental opinion.
Governmental policy can only go so far towards tackling childhood obesity. While highly nutritious processed foods and a more sedentary lifestyle may be partially to blame, obesity is also a social phenomenon. To effectively tackle childhood obesity, we have to change the way people think. This is an ongoing war, with schools and teachers on the frontline.
A report released by the UK Chief Medical Officers in 2011 recommends that children exercise for at least an hour a day. With many schools offering two hours of weekly PE, this is a tall prospect. The school day is already starved for time, but there are still ways to keep children active. Children are better at learning while physically active, as it increases the blood flow to the brain. It might sound counterintuitive, but exercise can also help to increase concentration and attention span. Primary school teachers may consider teaching “active” lessons that get pupils out of their chairs. Exciting and engaging after-school offerings can also entice students to exercise.