Overcoming the obesity crisis is everyone’s problem

Dr Gill Harris, Consultant Paediatric Clinical Psychologist

 

Yesterday marked an exciting point in the history of the Infant and Toddler Forum!

After fifteen years of supporting parents and professionals in early years’ nutrition and development, we are transitioning to become a Community Interest Company (CIC).

As a newly established legal entity with a common social purpose at its heart, the ITF will now have the freedom to fundraise, apply for grants, and work with like-minded partners to shape the healthy habits message more widely into homes and communities.

The occasion was celebrated with a reception at Royal Society of Medicine’s Chandos House which announced the ITF’s aim to place early years, the crucial window of opportunity, at the heart of the obesity prevention agenda. It was an exciting night for the ITF who were delighted to see such a strong turn-out of individuals, organisations and stakeholders committed to early years health and nutrition.

When the Infant & Toddler Forum first began to offer parents and healthcare professionals practical advice on feeding young children, childhood obesity was only just beginning to enter the public consciousness.

Today, the problem of excess weight gain in young children is widely recognised as a worldwide epidemic with serious long-term health consequences. The NHS spends £5bn per year on obesity, that’s more than on the police force, fire service and ambulance service combined. The only way to reduce this is to prevent overweight and obesity at an early stage in life. We know that the process of obesity starts at conception and is established by the time children start school. We also know that obese children are then more likely to become obese adults.

The current obesity epidemic has been years in the making… so there isn’t a quick fix! An integrated, whole system approach will be critical if we are to stem the tide of obesity, including not only action at both national and local levels, but also action by industry, communities, families and society as a whole.

Our work is therefore more important than ever – both for today and for future generations.

As a CIC we want to respond to this challenge so that we can achieve our mission of giving every child the healthiest start in life and making prevention ACTIONABLE.

This means reaching into more communities and working with all key stakeholders to ensure that everyone plays their part in tackling childhood obesity. A multidisciplinary approach is vital to defeat obesity with concerted and cooperative action needed at every level.

June O’Sullivan, CEO London Early Years Foundation guest and supporter of the ITF said “We have partnered with the ITF from the very beginning and our joint work has shown us the vital importance of tackling the early years. There is ‘strength in numbers’ and I strongly believe that we need to bring together the many organisations currently working in silos, if we are to give children the healthiest possible start in life. We look forward to continuing our work with the ITF, alongside collaborating with like-minded organisations, to ensure we give our children’s health the highest priority”.

We know that families need practical support to make healthier choices – so they can take small steps to improve their own health and the health of their children. They don’t need to be told what to do. They need help to change their behaviour. That’s where the Infant and Toddler Forum come in… Through providing continued education and support and collaborating with ambitious like-minded partners, the ITF will continue to aim to build a future where poor early eating habits are stopped in their tracks.

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Further Reading

  • Lucy Upton, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist   Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, with recent NHS figures revealing that one child under five is admitted to hospital because of obesity every week. The coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown has challenged already difficult circumstances and during this time many children were consuming more higher fat and/or sugar snacks, spending longer in front of screens and missing out on regular activity including physical education classes.
  • Dr Gill Harris, Consultant Paediatric Clinical Psychologist   Following his recent recovery from coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has publicly blamed excess weight for his need for intensive care. He has subsequently declared a war on the UK’s obesity crisis and is planning a post-pandemic public health drive to battle the growing problem.
  • Katie Fox, Primary School Teacher   Due to coronavirus, playgroups and nurseries are shut and those children due to start school in a few months will be out of routine and away from friends. It is understandable that many parents are worried about getting their children ready for September. Children learn and progress at different rates so there are no set criteria on what they need to be able to know or do when they first start nursery, but if they have had some experience learning at home it could help to make it a smoother transition. Turn taking games, imaginative play, reading, and developing fine and gross motor skills can promote independence, build confidence and help develop simple skills.