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UK child obesity crisis laid bare as doctors say parents all have one problem

Doctors are increasingly being asked by baffled parents of overweight children how to cook quick, cheap and simple fresh food.

In further evidence of Britain’s growing obesity crisis medics say a disproportionate amount of their time is now being spent teaching the basics of nutrition.

One GP said: “I had one mum and her child was overweight, but she was a young parent and she actually didn’t know how to cook dinners and we spent a lot of time giving her worksheets, how to cook, make potato and beans, rather than going to the fish and chip shop.”

The extraordinary insight comes from GPs, primary care and school nurses who gave first-hand accounts to researchers at the University of Birmingham for a snapshot of the epidemic.

Findings were revealed after the Daily Express told <<2/4/24>> that as many as 10 million Brits are now addicted to industrially-manufactured junk food in an obesity crisis now thought to cost the NHS £58 billion a year.

Miranda Pallan, Professor of Child and Adolescent Public Health at the University of Birmingham, said: “This study brings a fresh awareness about the pressures healthcare professionals face, including the limitations in trying to provide preventative care for young people.

“While we should not expect doctors to be spending lots of time teaching families how to cook healthy, balanced meals, it does highlight [they] need more support and dedicated time to enable them to give practical advice and in some cases refer to more specialist services.”

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found doctors are unable to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity because of a lack of training and capacity.

Medics said they are “frustrated” with the study revealing not only do GPs have concerns about starting difficult conversations with parents, they are unable to see information from the National Child Measurement Programme which provides body mass data on those aged 4-5 and 10-11.

Asked about addressing the issue of child weight, one GP said: “We’re not commissioned to do that anymore. But most of us feel that’s where our work lies.”

Another said: “Unfortunately we haven’t got access to a specific dietitian for children for obesity. If you refer, it tends to be rejected.”

More than one third of children are overweight by the time they leave primary school.

Type 2 diabetes, almost exclusively due to poor diet, sugar addiction and obesity, is one of the UK’s fastest growing health emergencies and costs the NHS £15 billion a year or £1 million an hour. It is now being diagnosed routinely in children when 40 years ago it was almost exclusively a condition seen in the elderly.

By 2030 the UK is set to become Europe’s fattest country, according to the World Health Organisation, while estimates suggest more than 21 million UK adults will be obese by 2040 – almost 4 in 10 of the population.

A growing number of experts argue food addiction positively correlates with body mass and eating disorders and attempts to properly classify it as a disease, like drug and alcohol dependence, would mark the most significant health intervention since tobacco was linked to cancer and has largely become socially unacceptable, leading to wholesale bans in public places.

Obesity expert Dr David Unwin, who runs specialist low-carb sessions at his surgery in Southport, Merseyside, has helped 150 diabetic patients into remission through sensible eating.

He said: “Our practice has seen a ten-fold increase in the numbers of people suffering with Type 2 diabetes, a condition closely linked to overconsumption and obesity. A look around any petrol station or supermarket will show the likely culprits: shelf after shelf of sugary treats, crisps, and chocolate bars. All washed down with litres of equally sugary drinks.

“The Government made a good start with the sugar tax in 2018. Yet despite this encouraging start and plans to ban the advertising of junk foods to children, there has been no further action.

“Our NHS is exhausted and demoralised trying to cope with the ever-growing burden of chronic diseases linked to obesity.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our Soft Drinks Industry Levy has nearly halved the amount of sugar in soft drinks, removing 46,000 tonnes in total, and our sugar reduction programme has led to reductions in sugar levels in breakfast cereals, yogurts and milk-based drinks.

“We introduced mandatory calorie labelling in large restaurants, cafes, and takeaways in April 2022, helping people make informed choices for themselves and their families when eating out. In October 2022, we also introduced location restrictions, which mean less healthy food can no longer be placed in key selling locations in supermarkets.”

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