UK children shorter, fatter and sicker amid poor diet and poverty, report finds

Children across the UK are getting shorter, fatter and sicker amid an epidemic of poor diets, food insecurity and poverty, according to a report warning that millions are facing a “timebomb” of avoidable health conditions.

The average height of five-year-olds is falling, obesity levels have increased by almost a third and the number of young people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has risen by more than a fifth, the report by the Food Foundation said.

Aggressive marketing of cheap ultra-processed food, diets lacking essential nutrition and high levels of poverty and deprivation are driving the “significant decline” in children’s health, researchers found.

Failure to reverse the alarming trajectory will result in a generation burdened throughout their lives by diet-related illnesses and the mental health impact of living with disease – followed by an early death, the report concluded.

Health experts, politicians and food campaigners warned that without immediate action to reverse the damage, the crisis would overwhelm the NHS and weaken the economy for decades with much of the population too sick to work.

“The decline in children’s health shown clearly in this report is a shocking and deeply sad result of the failures of the food system in the UK,” said Henry Dimbleby, the former government food tsar and author of the National Food Strategy.

“We need the next government to take decisive action to make healthy and sustainable food affordable, stem the constant flow of junk food and to realise that investing in children’s health is an investment in the future of the country.”

The report comes after the Guardian revealed ministers were told they were putting children at lifelong risk of ill health after shelving policies to tackle obesity and junk food until 2025.

Michael Marmot, the director of UCL’s institute of health equity, said the new report spotlighted a dramatic worsening in children’s health in the last decade.

“We used to think of the combination of undernutrition and obesity as a feature of low and middle income countries. We are now seeing it in Britain in 2024.”

“Over a century of history has led us to expect continuous improvements in health. Over the last dozen years that has changed. Healthy life expectancy has declined. Quite simply, people’s fundamental human needs are not being met.”

The Food Foundation report, which included a new analysis of data from government and health sources, spotlighted the rapidly deteriorating state of children’s health.

The height of five-year-olds in the UK has been falling since 2013 and children are also shorter than those in almost all other comparable countries, the report said.

Obesity levels among 10 and 11-year-olds in England have increased by 30% since 2006, with one in five children already officially obese by the time they leave primary school, researchers found.

Cases of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, have risen by 22% among those aged under 25 in England and Wales in the last five years, the study added.

Babies born in the UK today will also enjoy a year less good health than babies born a decade ago, according to the report.

Baroness Anne Jenkin, a Conservative peer, said children’s health had “never been worse” but warned that almost no one was talking about it. “This is a timebomb waiting to explode if action isn’t taken.”

Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, said: “When the height of five-year-olds has been falling since 2013, and we’re learning babies born today will enjoy a year less good health than babies born a decade ago, every mother and father in the land will be concerned and shocked at what is happening to children through lack of nutrition, living through the hungry 2020s in food bank Britain.”

The report said children’s dietary health “has not been taken sufficiently seriously” and “policy in this area has been lacklustre and wholly insufficient to address the severity of the problem”.

The “aggressive promotion of cheap junk food” and levels of food insecurity caused by poverty and deprivation mean that children are living in an environment that makes feeding them healthily an “almost impossibly difficult challenge”, it added.

Anna Taylor, the executive director of The Food Foundation, said the health problems prompted by poor diets were “entirely preventable”.

“Politicians across the political spectrum must prioritise policies that give all children access to the nutrition they need to grow up healthily, as should be their right.”

The chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver said: “Decades of government neglect has meant kids are suffering from more obesity-related illnesses, leading to average heights shrinking and living shorter lives – they’re not being given the chance to be happy, healthy people.

“We need to reverse this trend if we’re to have the healthiest generation of kids, and to do that we need to take a serious look at the food that fuels us. And right now, it’s not pretty.”


Updated: Juni 18, 2024 — 11:01 pm

Tinggalkan Balasan

Alamat email Anda tidak akan dipublikasikan. Ruas yang wajib ditandai *