Bringing child obesity under control

At reception, 22%, or 1,450 children in are overweight or obese, by the time children are in year 6 the number is 35%, or 2,000. It would be easy to conclude from that statistic that schools make children fat. It is not true. The real picture is far more complex. Comparing to the rest of Yorkshire Sheffield is about average for obesity in reception and a little above average for obesity at year 6.

PHE data shows that 60% of people in Sheffield are overweight or obese. We know this can lead to diabetes, cancer, joint and back problems and heart disease. Of course, overweight is not the only problem. Under nutrition and underweight is a real concern. There is little data on this, but we know that in some areas children are underweight, there is a link between nutrition and poverty, nutritious foods tend to not be the cheapest.

Early in life is by far the most important time to intervene to address and prevent future problems. The Council has recently published a food strategy. We know we can’t solve this problem by “treatment” alone, we need to make “healthy choice” easier. We are focusing hard on sugar in our diets, and especially in children.

We are actively working with a range of public sector organisations to improve the quality of food offered in the city, for example through leisure centres, hospitals, schools. We will be launching a low sugar city campaign in the near future. Obviously we continue to support work around food poverty and continue to commission a range of weight management services.

It is Move More month. Sheffield has a long standing commitment to our Move More strategy. About a quarter of schools are involved the Daily Mile initiative and we are always keen than more participate. Feedback from teachers is that participation is a good thing with many benefits to the children. Many more schools strongly encourage walking or cycling to school and of course all ensure there is good quality PE within the curriculum.

We believe we have the right mix of activity in our strategy. There is a great deal of good work going on but of course there is always more to do. Some of the big initiatives require government intervention, for example seriously addressing food advertising and increasing the national budget for cycling and walking. We hope to work with government to address these issues. We will continue to focus on what we CAN do locally and we are always on the look out for new ideas and views.

  • This was originally published in the Sheffield Telegraph
Greg Fell
Greg Fell
Greg Fell is a Director of Public Health in Sheffield. He graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in biochemistry and physiology in 1993. He has worked as a social researcher in a maternity unit; a number of roles in health promotion and public health before joining the public health training scheme. Greg worked as a consultant in public health in Bradford in the PCT then Bradford council. Since Feb 2016 he has worked for Sheffield as director of public health.