8 September 2011
Southwark is suffering from an obesity epidemic - and the numbers involved are simply staggering.
Consider the financial implications alone - £92.1 million a year spent by NHS Southwark by 2015, with the figure already at £86.1 million in 2010. That’s one sixth of the health authority’s annual budget for helping the borough’s population to cope with every form of illness and health challenge, spent on just one condition and all the subsequent health issues that arise from obesity - joint injuries, diabetes, heart conditions, cancer and much more.
Then there’s the number of people affected - 73,964 at the last estimate, which includes 6,995 children. Shocking figures reveal that 29.8 per cent of Southwark kids are ‘overweight and obese’ at the start of primary school, with the figure rising to 40.2 per cent as they go to senior school.
In the face of this, the political furore over Southwark’s Labour administration to push ahead with plans to provide free school meals seems to pale into insignificance.
Yes, the opposition was right to point out that there was an argument for means testing, rather than a blanket policy, even for those families who don’t necessarily lack the finances to provide healthy, nutritious meals for their children. But these latest figures are so alarming that it would suggest that the policy probably should be applied across the board - as even some of those who can provide aren’t necessarily doing so.
Some months back we debated in this column the pros and cons of sending parents to prison for continual failure to send their children to school, as happened with a Walworth mother and father. We argued then that, despite the difficulties parents faced with unruly children, there had to be a line drawn, beyond which the state could reasonably argue that parents had failed their children, and as such the state had the right to intervene, as well as to punish the
adults for that failure.
And the same is true of childhood obesity. Of course continual advice is needed for parents in regard to exercise and nutritional advice. But everyone knows these days that a diet of fast food and sweets and chocolates, rather than freshly prepared food, with greens and fruits, is going to lead to health problems.
So while obese adults, and parents of obese children, still need to be guided in the right direction, they also need to understand that failing to provide children with a healthy diet amounts to nothing short of neglect.
Yes, the government can do more, such as draw up legislation for higher taxes on junk food, rather than appeal to the good nature of those who run the industry, and health authorities can continue to engage and help. But, as has happened elsewhere in the country in recent weeks, the council should rightly raise the threat of parents having their children taken into care if they can’t look after them properly. It’s called tough love - and if it’s not the parents, then someone has to provide it.
Dr Ann Marie Connolly, Director of Public Health at NHS Southwark, told us this week that ‘obesity is a ticking time bomb’. But these figures show she’s wrong.
It’s not ticking - it’s exploded.
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