Sick City: Childhood obesity

4 October 2010

 Childhood obesity
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Childhood obesity

On Thursday 7 October, Wellcome Collection presents Sick City, a balloon debate in which the audience decides public health priorities for London. Four speakers will each propose a problem which they think demands our resources and attention. This week on the Wellcome Collection blog, we present a brief introduction to each speaker’s priority. Join the debate using the comments below, or come to the event on Thursday (tickets are still available) to help make the decision.

Dr Alan Maryon-Davis will make the case for obesity as London’s most urgent health challenge.

The stark fact is that one in five young Londoners is obese, and one in three is overweight. The obesity levels among 10-11 year-olds in Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth are higher than anywhere else in the country. Child obesity in London has rocketed over the past decade, and, overall, London has the dubious honour of being the obesity capital of northern Europe.

Most obese kids become obese adults and have to carry the burden of ill-health that so often goes along with that. They face a much higher risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, musculoskeletal problems, gall-bladder disease, heart disease and cancer of the bowel and breast. Middle-age diseases are happening earlier and earlier to the capital’s young people. We are producing a generation that risks dying younger than their parents.

The problem is especially acute among the less well off. Obesity among the most deprived children is nearly double the rate in the least deprived. It’s one of the most important causes of health inequalities in London. But we can do something about it. By improving our children’s eating habits and encouraging them to be more active, we can turn the tide of child obesity. If we’re really serious about reducing the health divide between the haves and have-nots in London, let’s be practical and change our children’s lifestyles – for life.

Alan Maryon-Davis has worked in the fields of health promotion, preventive medicine and public health at a national and local level for over 30 years, much of that time as director of public health for Southwark. He is immediate-past President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, immediate-past Chair of the Royal Society for Public Health, vice-chair of the National Heart Forum and an honorary professor of public health at Kings College London. He has also written ten health books for the general public on subjects ranging from healthy eating to first aid, and has presented several series on national TV and radio. He is co-author of the recent report, Healthy Nudges [pdf], published by the UK Faculty of Public Health.