Obesity in children

Current situation 

- Obesity in children in the UK has reached epidemic proportions.

- More than one child in four in England is overweight or obese, according to a government report published recently which also showed that obesity in young people is continuing to rise.

- Levels of obesity are higher among children living in the most deprived areas (16.4 per cent) compared with children from the least deprived areas (11.2 per cent).

- An obese child aged between 10 and 14 years has a 79 per cent chance of being obese as an adult if they have at least one obese parent.

What is the evidence?

- Watching television has been found to be a major contributor for childhood obesity (Obesity Reviews 2005; 6: 123-32).

- A systematic review showed that breast-feeding seems to have a small but consistent protective effect against obesity in children (Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004; 28: 1,247).

- Overweight children have problems during childhood -including low self esteem - which may perpetuate patterns of inactivity, overeating and obesity into adulthood (BMJ 2005; 330: 1,339).

- Surprisingly, a national birth cohort study has found that obesity limited to childhood has little impact on socioeconomic, educational, social and psychological outcomes in adult life (BMJ 2005; 330: 1,354).

It also showed that adult obesity is associated with somewhat poorer employment and relationship outcomes in women only. It appears to be associated with positive social outcomes in men. However findings were independent of any history of childhood obesity.

- Childhood obesity is predictive of bullying in both sexes, according to a prospective cohort study (Arch Dis Child 2006; 91: 121).

This study also showed that obese boys are more likely to be bullies.

Available guidance

- Confusion among local professionals over the best way to tackle childhood obesity is threatening the UK government's target of halting the increase in the condition by 2010 (BMJ 2006; 332: 505)

- A recent article has outlined ways that healthcare providers and public health officials can encourage, monitor and advocate for increased physical activity for children and teenagers in order to reduce childhood obesity (Pediatrics 2006; 117: 1832).

However, many GPs feel that they do not have the time or training to manage obesity in children.

- The labelling of foods and the level of advertising of children's foods are already improving.

USEFUL WEBSITES

www.dh.gov.uk - Department of Health

www.nao.org.uk - National Audit Office

- Dr Louise Newson is a GP in the West Midlands and author of 'Hot Topics for MRCGP and General Practitioners', Pas Test 2006

KEY POINTS

- Obesity in children is increasing.

- Television watching is strongly linked with obesity.

- Childhood obesity is predictive of bullying.

- Most GPs do not have the time or training to manage this condition.

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