Feb 27, 2018
Our new report argues that framing obesity as an issue of individual willpower overlooks the overwhelming evidence from behavioural science on how environments – both social and physical – influence people’s decision making.
'Bite Size: Breaking down the challenge of inner-city childhood obesity' was developed in partnership with The Behavioural Insights Team. It takes a detailed look at the evidence on how the ‘obesogenic’ inner-city environment is increasingly bombarding people with an overwhelming amount of opportunities to eat high energy food, therefore promoting unhealthy choices.
Experts including Shirley Cramer from the Royal Society for Public Health and chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver, have contributed to the report, which highlights that:
Despite increasing rates of childhood obesity across the developed world, the Charity claims progress is possible if efforts are focused on breaking the link between deprivation and obesity, particularly in inner-cities.
“In the UK, one in 10 children start school obese. That’s enough to fill London’s Olympic Stadium four times over, and entirely unacceptable", said our Chief Executive, Kieron Boyle. “To tackle childhood obesity, we need to be clear that its effects are disproportionately centred on poorer families; that it is as much a problem of environments as it is of willpower; and that although the issue is complex, the solutions do not have to be. Our report demonstrates that everyone needs to play a role. The places our children grow up – our homes, schools and streets – are influenced by many different people. We will succeed by bringing them together and creating environments that make the healthy thing to do, the easy thing to do.”
Meryem is a 35-year-old single mum of three who lives in Kennington and one of the families featured in the report. “The food options in my area aren’t very healthy at all – fried chicken, Chinese takeaways, or pizza", said Meryem. "There are a few new restaurants opening up but they just aren’t affordable with my budget, and you think to yourself – it’s a lot more expensive than the takeaways. Because I have kids I want to get healthy food for them. My son would probably want to eat chicken and chips everyday if I let him, but I try to buy and cook healthier food at home for the kids so it’s ready when they come back from school.”
A contributor to the report, Jamie Oliver, chef and long-time campaigner, reflects on the size of the issue. “Childhood obesity is the health epidemic of our time. The Guy's and St Thomas' Charity report shows that obesity is not caused by parents and kids lacking in willpower – it’s actually our high streets, schools and shared public environments that are having a truly negative impact on kids' health. Now we have this evidence to hand, I'm looking forward to seeing how robustly and logically the government choose to act in the formation of the much-awaited and absolutely imperative Childhood Obesity Strategy Chapter 2. Time is not on our side and this young generation need to be healthy and happy in order to build the foundation of a strong and stable nation.”
Meanwhile, top health bodies including Public Health England, have commented on the importance of a whole-systems approach supported in 'Bite Size'. “There’s no denying our environment encourages children to eat too much food high in calories, fat, salt and sugar", said Chief Nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone. "We’re working across sectors to reduce this, from our engagement with the food industry to reduce sugar and calories in food, to advising the government on town planning guidance. This report shows that tackling obesity is everyone’s business – including local authorities, communities and the people who make and sell our food."
The report reflects experiences from projects on the ground as well as families living in disadvantaged areas. It features contributions from Greater London Authority, Public Health England, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, Alexandra Rose Charity, the Amsterdam Programme, and other experts in nutrition and public health.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also added his voice to the launch of the report.“The findings clearly show that we need to address the link between inequality and poor health to effectively tackle childhood obesity", said the Mayor. "I want all young Londoners to be able to lead happy, healthy lives, which is why I’m setting up a new Child Obesity Taskforce, with the support of partners including Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. I am looking for the very best individuals from across the city to lead the way, with a proven track record of bringing together those who can help tackle this problem and improve the health and life chances of our young people – regardless of their economic background, their ethnicity or where in the capital they live.” This follows the contribution from the Mayor's Health Advisor, Dr Tom Coffey, to the report reflecting on the capital's 'child obesity challenge'.
The international evidence base on childhood obesity demonstrates the importance of coordinated responses to the many drivers of unhealthy weight. We are taking a place-based approach, working with local neighbourhoods to better understand the drivers and context in which effective action needs to take place. Working in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and others, we aim to reduce the obesity deprivation gap focussing on environments where children and families spend their time: home, school and street.