Families should be at the heart of a new wave of place-based interventions designed to turn the tide of Britain’s childhood obesity crisis, a think-tank report on adolescent obesity says today.
The Social Market Foundation said that programmes where families were supported to lose weight together were amongst the most effective and should be part of a ‘whole systems’ approach which hands extra powers and resources to local areas and metro mayors.
Children with obesity and overweight often have parents who also have obesity and overweight, family-based approaches to addressing childhood obesity – such as Coventry’s “One Body, One Life” programme – can be more effective than those targeting an individual (See Case Study).
Britain is facing an escalating childhood obesity crisis and the SMF said that teenage obesity was not given enough attention by policymakers.
Between 1995-2019, obesity rates amongst 11-15 year olds rose by almost a quarter. Official data published last month indicated a further spike (21% in 2019 to 25.5% in 2021) during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
The government is aiming to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and “significantly reduce” the gap in childhood obesity outcomes between rich and poorer areas.
The think-tank’s report said whilst some progress towards the government’s childhood obesity targets had been made, current policies lacked urgency and ambition. Progress on several childhood obesity measures has stalled, including reforms to school food standards and banning the sale of energy drinks to teenagers.
The SMF’s research was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, a global pharmaceutical company, and highlights the link between adolescent and parental obesity. Among mothers with obesity, 28% of children were found to also have obesity, compared with 8% of children whose mother had neither overweight nor obesity.
Teenage obesity is also a strong predictor of obesity in adulthood. Obesity among 42-year-olds is three times higher when their BMI was over 25 at age 16.
The SMF said that targeting public health interventions during the teenage years could lead to future savings for the taxpayer and improve the health of a generation.
The SMF reviewed a range of intervention options as part of the research and stated that whilst there is no ‘silver bullet’ for preventing and treating adolescent obesity, family-based interventions which support the entire household to engage in healthier behaviours were amongst the most effective.
Family interventions should be part of broader ‘whole-systems approach’. The SMF said policymakers should look to the French ‘EPODE’ model (see notes) and Amsterdam’s healthy weight initiative, which has led to widely-praised improvements in childhood obesity rates.
Giving additional powers to metro mayors and making better use of integrated care systems would help the government accelerate its childhood obesity plans.
The SMF also recommended that reforms were made to the National Child Measurement Programme, with parental feedback on a child’s weight made mandatory, alongside additional support.
Jake Shepherd, Researcher at the Social Market Foundation, said:
“We are in the midst of a national childhood obesity crisis, with recent statistics showing a spike in obesity rates since the pandemic began. That means we need to double down on our efforts to prevent and treat childhood obesity so the next generation can lead healthy lives.
“Adolescent obesity is driven by a complex set of factors but the clear link we find in our research between a parent and child having overweight suggests that family-based programmes should be a top priority for policymakers.
“Whilst there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all approach for addressing obesity, evidence from abroad offers real optimism that local-level initiatives can help lead to sustained weight loss amongst young people. The government should look to hand over new powers and resources to metro mayors and other local leaders to drive that change.”
Coventry’s “One Body, One Life” programme includes an 8-10 week programme for families, “designed to help you and your child choose healthier foods and spend more time together having fun and being active”. The programme is currently delivered in primary schools, sports centres and community venues across Coventry. An evaluation of One Body, One Life found statistically significant self-reported behaviour changes among participants, with improvements in fruit and vegetables eaten and decrease in consumption of crisps, snacks, and take away foods. There were also significant increases in physical activity, and small but statistically significant improvements in BMI/BMI percentile for adults and children who started the programme with overweight/obesity.
For more on France’s EPODE programme see: https://epode-international-network.com/ and for more on Amsterdam’s health weight programme see: https://www.amsterdam.nl/sociaaldomein/aanpak-gezond-gewicht/amsterdam-healthy-weight-programme-0/
- The briefing paper, Treating and preventing adolescent obesity, will be published on 13th December 2021 at 09:00 AM at smf.co.uk/publications/adolescent-obesity/
- Novo Nordisk has provided sponsorship to the Social Market Foundation (SMF) to fund the research and production of the report. Novo Nordisk has had no influence on the content of the report and full editorial control remains the sole responsibility of the SMF.
- The SMF, a registered charity, declares all its sources of funding and retains editorial independence over all its outputs.
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