The unhealthy lifestyles of today’s children could see them die younger than their parents because of heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions, a new study has shown.
In a “wake-up call” to parents, schools and the Government, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has worked with the University of Oxford to publish its first ever supplement dedicated solely to coronary heart disease statistics and causes among children and young people.
The study has found that with around 30 per cent of that group being overweight or obese, less than one in five children in the UK eating their five a day, and a minority doing recommended levels of daily exercise, the 50-year trend of reducing cardiovascular disease is set to be reversed.
BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “These figures are a warning that many of our children are in grave danger of developing coronary heart disease in the future if they continue to live the same lifestyle.”
And medical director Professor Peter Weissberg wrote in a foreword to the study: “Over the past fifty years there has been a substantial and unprecedented reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK. This trend could reverse if we fail to tackle the rising tide of obesity in our young people today.
The research identified a variety of bad habits which, picked up in childhood, represented a real danger going on into adult life. These including skipping breakfast, with half of 13-year-old boys and a third of girls avoiding the meal on a regular basis.
Figures also showed that half of all children have chocolates, sweets, and soft drinks every day.
“It’s pretty bleak and totally unacceptable,” Mr Gillespie told The Times.
He said: “We’ve got a generation growing up which will buck that trend and potentially they will be the generation that lives less long than the generation above them. It really is as stark as that. If that isn’t a wake-up call, then what is?”
And Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, told the newspaper: “This isn’t wishy-washy open-toed sandals stuff. If we really want to compete with India and China we need fit, healthy adults.
“We’ve got used to the idea that our children aren’t going to be as well off as us, but we haven’t got used to the idea that they won’t be as healthy,” he said.
The BHF said it was expanding its “Hearty Lives” scheme to combat the problem, committing £1.2 million in order to set up seven new community projects.
Mr Gillespie said: “The projects, run in partnership with local authorities, the NHS and non-profit organisations, will use a range of interventions to help.
”These include employing a dietitian to work with children struggling with obesity in Manchester and running weight management programmes for teenagers in Scotland.
“Through our new Hearty Lives projects we are committed to working with local communities to give young people most at risk of heart disease a healthier start in life.”