The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“the College”) have called on the UK Government and the devolved administrations to provide universal nutritional education for parents, to help tackle childhood obesity. They said that education on healthy diet for children, and the importance of exercise, should be available at every opportunity – across all socio-economic groups - starting with antenatal classes, then nursery, pre-school and primary and secondary school. The College recognises that the vast majority of parents encourage a healthy diet and exercise for their children.

Statistics show that if a child starts school already obese, then they are more likely to be obese in adulthood. Just 1 in 20 children, who are obese at age five, will return to a healthy weight by age 11. The obesity rate in adults in England and Scotland is 29%, while in Northern Ireland 27% of the population is obese.

The College pointed to a successful scheme in Leeds, led by HENRY (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young), where training has been provided for early-years workers and eight-week family programmes for 10 years. Leeds has seen a 6.4% fall in obesity rates over recent years. The College wants to see investment in similar schemes right across the UK. They also said that investing in nutritional education for first time mothers could help reduce their future risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

But the College argues that exercise is important too. They have argued that subsidised gym access, for example, could help under 18s keep active outside of school, but also when they leave school. And initiatives like the Daily Mile can help remove barriers to exercise, by encouraging nursery and primary aged children to walk, jog or run in peer groups at school.

Commenting, Professor Derek Bell MD OBE, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

We’re calling for governments in all four corners of the UK to seriously investigate educational health programmes such as HENRY, which appears to have been a roaring success in Leeds so far. It’s clear that by providing the right training for early-years workers, and the right information for families, real progress can be made on tackling obesity over time. This type of programme could be investigated and hopefully introduced nationally, or indeed locally through local authorities.

But obesity is a problem which must be tackled through a multi-agency approach. We won’t make the progress we need unless policy makers, healthcare workers, schools and the public all play their part in tackling obesity. And we can only get to grips with obesity and diabetes in the UK, if we get the balance right between food education and exercise. We back initiatives like the Daily Mile, which encourages children to get out and be active throughout the week, in groups of friends.

We truly need transformational, societal change, in our fight against obesity and diabetes. That means everyone working together.


Paul Gillen

Contact: Paul Gillen 0131 247 3658