The places where people live, work and play can have just as much impact on reducing childhood obesity as personal lifestyle choices, according to an independent report.
Tackling Childhood Obesity Together, the first annual report from Merton Council’s Director of Public Health, Dr Dagmar Zeuner, sets out the challenges of helping more children to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
In Merton, an estimated 4,500 children aged between four and 11 are overweight or obese. One in five pupils entering Reception Year is overweight or obese and this increases to one in three leaving primary school in Year 6.
The report highlights that parents may not even recognise that they or their children are obese due to a shift in society’s perception of what is a healthy body size and shape. But being overweight or obese puts children at increased risk of developing long-term or chronic illnesses including diabetes, arthritis and breathing difficulties.
Dr Zeuner said: “Childhood obesity is a complex problem and there is no single solution. We all have a part to play in tackling the influences and addressing the consequences of childhood obesity. My report sets out the challenge we face nationally, as a community and as individuals. The report highlights how our behaviour is influenced by the places where we live, work and play, so we all need to work in partnership to do more to prevent children becoming overweight or obese.
“People have not become lazier or greedier – what has changed is the environment we live in which encourages people to eat unhealthily and be less active. We are surrounded by food which is high in sugar and fat but cheaper than healthier alternatives. People use their cars more rather than walking or cycling and struggle to find time to be more active.”
Action is already being taken in to reduce childhood obesity in Merton through some innovative projects:
- The Healthier Catering Commitment is a voluntary scheme run by Merton Council to recognise the efforts of catering businesses to reduce the saturated fat and salt content of the food they sell, offer healthier options and serve smaller portions.
- The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) is piloting their Early Years Activation Programme at primary schools across the east of the borough. The early years programme seeks to enthuse very young children to be active for short ten minute bursts every day.
- Pupils are improving their health and fitness by taking a short break from lessons to walk or run a mile outside each day. The Daily Mile Merton is gradually being rolled out to primary schools across the borough. The fresh air and exercise aims to improve children’s physical and emotional health and develop their social skills. Teachers have reported that pupils are more focused on learning when they return to the classroom.
More people from Merton than any other London borough responded to the Great Weight Debate, an online survey run by the Healthy London Partnership last autumn, which aimed to raise awareness of childhood obesity and start a conversation about how to reduce it.
Merton Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Katy Neep, said: “We all need to work together to ensure the healthy choice is the easy and preferred choice for families because patterns of behaviour are often established early in childhood. Being overweight not only affects a child’s physical health, it can also impact on their emotional wellbeing which may hold them back from fulfilling their potential.”
Read the report here: Tackling Childhood Obesity Together.
 18.8% compared to the London average of 22% and the England average of 22.1%.
 34.7% compared to the London average of 38.1% and the England average of 34.2%