Call for cabinet post to tackle child obesity

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A cabinet minister for children should be appointed to oversee policy and strategy for child health and fitness across all departments, a cross-party group of MPS and peers has said.

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the report emphasises the vital importance of play in chidlren's healthy development

The All Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood said that without a strategic and co-ordinated approach the UK would face a ‘devastating’ child obesity epidemic.

It makes a number of recommendations across age ranges and said that there needs to be a whole family approach to tackle the problem.

The APPG’s chair, former children’s TV presenter Baroness Floella Benjamin, said, ‘It is now widely acknowledged that the nation is in the grip of a child obesity epidemic. This report will help families and the professionals who support them to turn the tide and establish new and healthy patterns of living for all our children.’

The group commissioned a working group, which has published a report with contributions from experts at 23 cross-sector organisations.

Helen Clark, chair of the working group and the report’s author, said, ‘Everyone who has participated in this process has experienced a learning curve. Some of our findings are extremely disappointing, but families are trying to do their best in a climate that is not properly supportive of their needs.’

The report cites research that shows that 40 per cent of children in Birmingham are overweight. A survey of Devon children found that girls gain 90 per cent of excess weight and boys 70 per cent, before they start school.

Early years recommendations include:

  • early childhood nutrition indicators should be included in developmental checks and frameworks that measure child poverty and healthy inequalities;
  • Start4life and Change4life strategies should develop clear messages for toddlers
  • There should be clear guidelines about the age at which parents should introduce solid food into babies' diets
  • The DfE and the Department of Health should work with nurseries and chidlren's centres to set up community hubs to support families on early life nutrition and healthy lifestyles from pregnancy to pre-school.

It also said that ministers had taken ‘a backward step in switching the emphasis from a play-based holistic child-centred approach, towards formal teaching and learning'.

The Department for Education should recognise early years as ‘a unique stage in its own right and not merely a preparation for school, reinstating the vital role of free play in establishing a healthy level of physical activity in young children'.

A well-qualified early years workforce is fundamental to improving the health for children and families and play work should be included in the Early Years Educator and Early years Teacher qualifications, it said.

It also said that the Government should introduce 'a play duty', as part of a new national play strategy, adopting a whole child approach to promote healthy development through play.

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