More than one third of children in the UK are either obese or overweight. In 2004, the WHO declared obesity a global epidemic. Eight years later the statistics tell us that not only are we failing to tackle the issue but it's worsening.
The government, schools, parents and children are equally to blame for this sorry state of affairs. The government has never woken up to the harsh reality that there just are not enough resources and funding for nutritional food or physical activities for the country's growing population. Schools think their responsibility begins and ends with giving lessons in various subjects to their students. Development of the overall personality is none of their concern.
As a result, taking care of adequate physical fitness is frowned upon. I would love to see eating a balanced diet become the social norm for children. School is the best place to help families do this.
Supermarkets hardly help, placing snacks such as crisps and chocolates in prominent positions. Fast-food restaurants not only proliferate, but big food corporations are the main sponsor of the sports events. What we need is to recognise the lifelong burden of physical inactivity and poor diets on children and young people by curbing the promotion of unhealthy foods. We could do this by making the following mandatory.
- Delivery of an appropriate physical education curriculum in schools
- The expansion of safe cycle paths and networks
- A halt to school playing field sale,
- A reduction in salt, sugar and hydrogenated fats added to pre-prepared foods,
- A ban on advertising unhealthy food and drink.
- Mandatory 'traffic light' labelling on packaging.
This will help sustain the NHS and will have favourable workload implications. I would estimate that something like 50% of our patients' medical costs would be eliminated if their diets were healthier and they exercised more. What will be the use of a good education if the person who got it is in bad physical, mental and emotional health?
- Dr Chand is BMA deputy chairman.