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GPs should lead on weight management advice to children

MPs call for tougher action to tackle child obesity

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 31 May 2018

GPs should be responsible for co-ordinating appropriate weight management advice and services for children as part of new moves to reduce levels of childhood obesity, according to MPs.

MPs on the parliamentary health and social care committee published a report* yesterday on childhood obesity following an inquiry they carried out and made many recommendations on how to intensify the battle against growing obesity rates in the UK.

Current estimates suggest that almost a third of children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese in the UK and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer.

A refreshed version of the Childhood obesity: a plan for action, first published in 2016, is expected to be published by the government soon.

In anticipation of that, the committee’s report said tougher action was needed with a wider approach across government departments and more direct interventions such as the existing soft drinks industry levy, known as the sugar tax.

GPs could also play a part, said MPs, who referred to evidence they received during their inquiry from Professor Russell Viner from the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 organisations with expertise in tackling obesity.

Speaking of early years service provision, Professor Viner had said: “One key thing that we would argue for is expansion of measurement.”

Currently, children were measured at birth by their GP at the six-week rate, but it was often not written down and although children were often measured through their early life, the data were not gathered in one place nor put together.

“They are measured exceptionally well by the national child measurement programme at four and at school leaving at 11, but between birth and four the data are in no particular place, sometimes in the parent’s red book, and after 11 there is no measurement,” said Professor Viner.

“The data systems should work together; it should be held by parents and by GPs. There should be systems that allow GPs to record and act upon that data purely through signposting. At the moment, our primary care systems are not designed to allow GPs simply to make every contact count.

“We do not want a child to turn up at primary school at age four already overweight and obese. We want GPs, nurses or others to advise parents on when a child is going off trajectory, heading towards being overweight, and to guide them back.”

In the new report, MPs recommend that the next childhood obesity plan include specific measures to ensure data on child measurement are able to flow effectively between different parts of the health and social care system to the child’s GP.

“The GP should take on primary responsibility for co-ordinating appropriate weight management advice and services, and to the child’s parent,” says the report.

The report also calls on the government to set clear and ambitious targets for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity and the resulting health inequalities.

Statutory action was also needed, said the MPs, who wanted a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising; a ban on brand-generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote high fat, sugar and salt products on broadcast and non-broadcast media; and measures to ensure consistent and clear food labelling information for consumers.

*Childhood obesity: Time for action. Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, prepared by the House of Commons Health Committee, May 2018.

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