Sharp increase in childhood obesity prompts new NHS health campaign

A new government campaign launched on Monday to tackle the declining diets and increasing childhood obesity rates fuelled by the pandemic.

The new Better Health Campaign aims to provide families with support and detailed healthy eating information, with a new NHS Food Scanner App designed to improve children’s heath in 2022.

By scanning a barcode, the NHS App will show an item’s nutritional information before prompting healthier alternatives to shoppers.

NHS Digital figures from November 2021 show a dramatic rise in obese or overweight reception-age and Year 6 children in the UK.

It reports that in 2006/07, 22.9% of reception children were obese or overweight. This figure held stable until 2019/20, with only a marginal increase to 23.0%.

However, there was a 4.7% increase from 23.0% in 2019/20 to 27.7% in 2020/21.

Source: NHS Digital, National Child Measurement Programme, England 2020/201 School Year

Amongst the Year 6 bracket, the prevalence of obesity or overweight children grew steadily from 2006/07 to 2019/20, but saw a sharp 5.6% increase from 2019/20 to 2020/21.

The campaign falls against this backdrop, with intensified concerns over shifting eating trends across the pandemic.

Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show a sustained increased in calories consumed across the pandemic.

The report also shows that by May 2020, total calories were on average 15% above normal levels, with all groups across society having increased their calorie purchases.

These findings reinforce the survey of 2,030 parents with children aged 5-11 years old carried out by Netmums.

It showed that 70% of parents in London gave their children more sugary or fatty snacks than before the pandemic and 79% of parents said they often worry about how healthy their children’s snacks really are.

94% of parents in London said they would benefit from an App which would help them make healthier choices for their children.

Annie O’Leary, Netmums Editorial Director, said: “We all comfort ate our way through the pandemic and I know my kids ate far more treats than usual.

“But thank heavens there’s now something to help get us all back on track. And that it’s from the gold standard in terms of trustworthiness, the NHS, hopefully means millions of families will be downloading it and using it ASAP.”

Dr. Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at Department of Health and Social Care, said: “We are all aware of the increased pressures families have been under throughout the pandemic with children being stuck at home more.

“With advertising promoting unhealthy food to kids, it’s not surprising that parents say they’ve often found it hard to resist pestering from their children for more unhealthy snacks, and that is why the NHS Food Scanner App is a great tool to help families make quick and easy healthier swaps.

“It’s so important that children reduce the amount of sugary, fatty and salty foods they eat to help them stay healthy and reduce the risk of health problems such as diabetes and tooth decay.”

Girls Aloud member Nadine Coyle has been part of the App’s campaign rollout.

Coyle said: “As a busy working mum, I find it hard to say no to my kid’s demands and often give in to “snack” pressure – even though I know it’s not that good for them. I had no idea some foods were so high in sugar, saturated fat and salt – so it’s great that the App gives you alternatives.

“I love using the NHS Food Scanner App and so does my daughter; she likes choosing the healthier swaps which is great – we are already making small changes through good food choices.”

The campaign forms part of the £100m Government Obesity Strategy that will regulate unhealthy food advertisements to children as well as provide support for members of the public to achieve and sustain healthy weights.

Dietician Dr. Linia Patel has also been part of the campaign.

Patel said: “We know that parents find it really hard to find healthier snacks for their kids, especially if they’re fussy eaters.

“The NHS Food Scanner App is a fun way to get the kids involved in choosing healthier foods that they’ll love – so get going and scan, swipe, swap!”

The NHS App is available to download from the App Store or Google Play.

Image courtesy of Better Health Campaign

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