Government's child obesity target 'may not be met'

The government's target to halt the rise of child obesity by 2010 may not be met unless there is "clearer leadership", a report has warned.

The incidence of childhood obesity increased from 9.6% in 1995 to 13.7% in 2003.

The government's target, to halt the rising rates of obesity in children under the age of 11 by 2010, is the joint responsibility to the Department of Health, Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The report, conducted by the National Audit Office, the Healthcare Commission and Audit Commission, said that although the government's target was set in July 2004, the key ingredients of the delivery plan have still not been published.

The report warned that a "lack of timely guidance" had meant that the various organisations that need to work together to achieve the target were unclear about their roles. "Without greater clarity, those further down the delivery chain may be wasting resources on ineffective or inappropriate interventions that fails to target those children most at risk", the report warned.

The government has a range of preventative programmes, particularly around school sport and children's nutrition, through which it aims to address child obesity.

However, the report warned that the obesity target was "far-reaching and complex", requiring significant changes in children's lifestyles, and warned that this was tougher to deliver, because of the coordination required between many regional, local and front line organisations.

The report said that there needed to be better definition of regional roles and responsibilities, a strengthening of local partnerships and more support for front line staff.

Anna Walker, Healthcare Commission Chief Executive, said: "Childhood obesity is a serious health problem that can follow people much later into life. It is a casual factor in a number of chronic diseases and conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

If we are serious about tackling childhood obesity then all government agencies and organisations must work together more effectively."

Responding to the report, Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said: "Tackling childhood obesity is a government wide priority. We have made huge steps forward already in starting to change attitudes through the 5 A Day campaign, the school fruit scheme and more investment in school food.

"Our public health agenda is the first concerted attempt to seriously tackle rising levels of obesity. We know that leadership and co-ordination are going to be crucial as is giving people information and support in making a difference to their own lives."

Jacqui Smith, Minister for Schools, said: "We have already made the first payments available for the £220 million available to help schools and local education authorities implement local strategies to transform their school lunches. The School Food Trust is now established and will be working intensively with schools and local authorities to support them in implementing the new minimum standards for school meals and increasing demand for healthier food"

Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport, said: "Sport and physical activity should be a natural part of every kid's daily life. We are making a major contribution towards children's health through our investment of over £1.5 billion in creating a sustainable structure for school sport."

Obesity now costs the NHS around £1 billion a year and the UK economy a further £2.3 billion of indirect costs.


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