25 October 2019
Dr James Nobles blogs about discussing support for children with severe obesity with the UK Government’s Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care.
In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has risen rapidly in the UK, thanks to the ever changing physical, social, and economic environments in which we live. The Government has acknowledged this, and in 2016 and 2018, they published two versions of their Childhood Obesity Plan.
So far, these plans have focused exclusively on preventing obesity (through changing ingredients in meals, introducing a soft drinks industry levy, improving food labelling and so on), rather than focussing on prevention and treatment / support. Given that an estimated 1.2 million children in the UK have obesity, with a further 300,000 having severe obesity, a preventative approach isn’t enough. Concerns about the lack of support services had also been put forward to the Government’s Health Select Committee in 2018.
This set the scene for our meeting with the Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care – Jo Churchill MP – on 22 October. Along with Kath Sharman (Managing Director of SHINE, Sheffield) and Paul Blomfield MP, I met with the Minister to discuss three key points about supporting children with severe obesity:
1) The prevalence of childhood obesity has started to level out in recent years, but it continues to rise in more deprived areas of the country, as does the prevalence of severe obesity . We also wanted to highlight that the National Childhood Measurement Programme only measures children in Reception and Year 6, meaning that have an ‘epidemiological blind spot’ with regards to the prevalence of obesity in adolescence.
2) The most recent estimates suggest that 44 percent of local authorities (LA) didn’t offer any weight management support for children and young people, and only two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) provided specialist weight management. This lack of provision means that families can’t access support when needed, and if they are able to access support, it’s most often the wrong type. The need for support services is pressing, but the funding and commissioning of such services has reduced in recent years.
3) In 2016, more than half of the CCGs said that they were not responsible for commissioning specialist weight management services for children and young people. It’s not clear in the UK where the responsibility lies for commissioning specialist services (with LAs, CCGs or NHS England), which is compounded further by a lack of guidelines to shape the delivery of such services – for example, from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). So, even where specialist weight management is provided, the make-up of these services differs greatly from place to place.
Our meeting with the Minister provided the space to discuss these three points, all of which were well received. We agreed to meet with NHS England to discuss the development of guidelines which could inform new specialist weight management services for children and young people. Policy advisors, who contribute to the Childhood Obesity Plan, were also at the meeting and recognised the absence of weight management services in the earlier incarnations of the plan.
We look forward to follow up meetings with NHS England.