Children at risk of early death as obesity rises

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Today's children may die sooner than their parents because of the Government's failure to curb the explosion in obesity, a report warns today.

Almost one in 10 children were obese in 1995, but the proportion had risen to just over one in seven by 2003. The number of children diagnosed as suffering adult type-2 diabetes, which normally affects overweight people in middle age, has risen ten-fold over the past five years to 100 a year.

In a stinging attack, the National Audit Office (NAO), the Healthcare Commission and the Audit Commission joined forces to accuse the Government of confusion, delay and a lack of leadership over efforts to combat obesity. The key public health target to halt the rise in child obesity by 2010 is in danger of being missed, the influential bodies say. The target, which was set in July 2004, aimed to reduce obesity in children aged five to 10.

A survey of 35 countries by the World Health Organisation in 2004 found that the diets of British children were among the unhealthiest in Europe. Snacking on chocolate and sweets and carbonated drinks were contributing to their rapidly expanding waist lines.

Steve Bundred, the chief executive of the Audit Commission, said: "If the trend continues, this generation of children will be the first for many decades that doesn't live for as long as their parents."

The overall cost of obesity to the NHS is currently around £1bn, with a further £2.3bn to £2.6bn for the economy as a whole. But if obesity continues to increase, Mr Bundred said the cost to the economy alone could rise to £3.6bn by 2010, plus at least £1bn on the NHS bill.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Health warned two years ago that by 2020 half of all children would be obese and there would be an epidemic of amputations and blindness caused by the rise of obesity linked diseases such as diabetes.

The report said there was a lack of leadership at all levels, confusion about measuring progress towards the target and delays in publishing guidance, which meant organisations risked wasting money on ineffective interventions.

The report's recommendations include the need for better local guidance on initiatives to tackle obesity, such as increasing use of school sports facilities. It also said that the three government departments responsible for the target needed to work closely together to provide strong leadership.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said: "Central government must set a clear direction if we are to tackle obesity in children. Given that the target was established in 2004, the three government departments could have been quicker in co-ordinating their own actions and making sure that those in the front line were fully informed and supported in their efforts."

The shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: "Fifteen months on from the public health White Paper this report exposes the lack of direction and clarity from the Government. They have failed to turn rhetoric into action."

The public health minister, Caroline Flint, said: "Tackling childhood obesity is a government wide priority. We have made huge steps forward in starting to change attitudes through the five -a-day campaign, the school fruit scheme and more investment in school food. We recognise we need to do more. We will continue to develop our work across government."

How youngsters measure up

* In 1995, 9.6 per cent of children aged two to 10 were obese and 22.7 per cent were overweight or obese .

* In 2003, 13.7 per cent of children aged two to 10 were obese and 27.7 per cent were overweight or obese.

* Obesity is commonest among the children of parents who are unemployed or have only sporadic work.

* Children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults.

* Asian children are four times more likely to be obese than those who are white.

* Obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of nine years, and by more in smokers, and greatly increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

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