TACKLING OBESITY: Professor at Leeds Beckett University, Pinki Sahota, welcomed the government’s obesity plan aimed at addressing the major public health crisis
TACKLING OBESITY: Professor at Leeds Beckett University, Pinki Sahota, welcomed the government’s obesity plan aimed at addressing the major public health crisis

A 2013 study by the United Nations concluded that the UK obesity rate had trebled in 30 years, making Brits the fattest people in Western Europe. 

According to statistics, one in three British children is obese by the time they leave primary school.

With these stats in mind, a national event, which will explore how to tackle the country’s growing obesity epidemic was held in Leeds this week.

In 2015, Leeds Beckett began a three-year programme, funded by Public Health England, to identify ways in which local authorities can create a whole systems approach in tackling obesity.  

The team’s progress on creating a route map for tackling obesity was shared at the event, which took place at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 18th October.

The three-year programme, funded by Public Health England, aims to enable local authorities to make a major step change in their ability to tackle obesity through a more co-ordinated approach.

Previous research has suggested that only by taking a whole systems approach – linking a whole range of sectors and influences including planning, housing, transport, children’s and adult’s services, business and health – can local authorities make significant inroads into tackling obesity and improve quality of life, save money and create sustained prosperity for local areas.

In August, the government published its childhood obesity strategy, designed to tackle obesity and improve the nation’s health.

The plan focuses on encouraging industry leaders to cut the amount of sugar in food and drinks and encouraging primary school children to eat more healthily and stay active.

Part of the strategy states primaries should deliver 30 minutes of ‘moderate to vigorous’ activity for pupils every day through active break times, extra-curricular physical education clubs and active lessons – with parents responsible for providing another daily 30 minutes.

However, the plan has been attacked by health experts, campaigners, MPs and the boss of one of Britain’s biggest supermarkets.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the government had ‘rowed back’ on promises, and the CEO of Sainsbury’s said the plan did not go far enough.

The plan asks the food and drink industry to cut five per cent of the sugar in products popular with children over the next year.

It says the ultimate target is a 20 per cent sugar cut, with Public Health England monitoring voluntary progress over the next four years.

Pinki Sahota, chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity – and Professor of Nutrition and Childhood Obesity at Leeds Beckett University, added: “I welcome the government’s childhood obesity plan aimed to address this major public health crisis.

“Whilst the actions identified in the plan are relevant, I feel that the plan lacks the ambitious and coherent actions required to support healthier behaviours in the prevention and treatment of child obesity.”

Professor Sahota continued:“The plan lacks bold actions that are needed to reverse the current high levels of child obesity such as e.g. a ban on junk food advertising before the 9.00pm watershed; reduction in portion sizes; reformulation targets for industry that address of high energy density foods; investment to increase and extend evidence-based child weight management services.”

Paul Gately, Professor of Exercise and Obesity at Leeds Beckett, said: “At Leeds Beckett, we’ve been at the forefront of understanding the issues involved in tackling obesity and finding solutions for over twenty years.

“ We have found that part of the problem is after we successfully support people to lose weight they still have to function in an external environment which is full of pressures and challenges.  By changing the external environment through a whole systems approach, local authorities can make it easier for individuals to reach a healthy weight and keep surplus weight off.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, added: “We know that where we live, work and play encourages us to consume too many calories and lead sedentary lifestyles. We need action from across society to support healthier places that in turn help people to achieve a healthier weight. The Whole Systems Obesity programme will help local authorities to do just that.”

The Leeds Beckett’s team have been working closely alongside a number of pilot local authorities to understand their perspectives and the realities for local government, capturing best practice, working collaboratively to overcome challenges, to co-produce new and innovative approaches that reflect what really matters to local authorities in using the latest thinking and making it work in practice for local people.