Member blog: Tantalising Treats and Sugary Sweets - The State of Scotland's Childhood Obesity Epidemic

04 March 2020

A beloved cartoon character on a cereal packet, a fast food shop that gives children toys when they eat there, an ad on television showing fountains of chocolate and the temptation of a mobile game overriding that of kicking a football around. Stimulation from all sides is encouraging the 5-year-old mind to consume more and more and more.

How is it any surprise, therefore, that 22% of Scottish children aged 4-5 are at risk of overweight or obesity? How is it still overlooked that one in three children in the UK will be obese by the age of 9?

At the RCPCH Scotland we place childhood obesity at the forefront of the issues surrounding child health and wellbeing. In light of the publication of our State of Child Health 2020 report today, it could not be clearer that we need to properly manage this ever-growing problem.

Childhood obesity can affect a child’s health, causing high blood pressure, respiratory issues and type 2 diabetes. It can also have long-term effects, as obese children are more likely to become obese adults.

Tackling the Issue

Obesity may be an epidemic, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to chip away at it by implementing new legislation which encourages a healthy lifestyle for children.

For a start, we must focus on limiting advertising which encourages impressionable audiences to consume unhealthy foods. Adverts particularly aimed at children paint sugary and fatty foods as desirable, adding catchphrases and songs and bright colours to capture their attention. RCPCH Scotland is in support of a 9pm watershed for broadcasting restrictions across the UK on advertising of unhealthy foods, particularly in products high in fat, sugar and salt.

Obesity can lead to inactivity which only fosters more weight gain. Opportunities for exercise need to be made accessible and enjoyable for children. RCPCH seeks a measure of quality of physical education within schools and an increase in sports and leisure facilities for children and young people in Scotland. Exercise is a key factor in reducing obesity, alongside healthy eating, and encouraging exercise from an early age is vital to creating a healthy generation.

Another important factor in childhood obesity is accessibility to fast food. Fast food is cheap, easy and flavourful, not to mention it often lures children in with toys and endless adverts. It is essential, therefore, that children have limited exposure to fast food restaurants. RCPCH recommends a 400-metre ban of fast food outlets from areas that children are likely to regularly attend.

We can’t talk about childhood obesity and not mention the inequality between children from affluent and those from poorer families; children from the most deprived families in Scotland are 1.7 times more likely to be overweight. Action must be taken to overcome inequalities in order to ensure that all can afford healthier food and therefore lead healthier lives.

Boldly addressing childhood obesity and implementing policy that encourage healthier lifestyle choices will pave the way to improve weight outcomes for children in Scotland. Tackling obesity in children is the first step for tackling obesity for all.

Contact: Louise Slorance, RCPCH Scotland | Follow us on Twitter @RCPCHScotland