The relentless increase in the number of obese people in Scotland is evident without the need for surveys.
It is especially alarming to see more children who are severely overweight as, unless remedial action is taken promptly, they are on course for health problems and a shorter-than-average lifespan. More immediately, they are at risk of being bullied and suffering from low self-esteem.
Just over one-fifth of Scots children are overweight when they start primary school, a proportion that has remained stubbornly static for the past decade. Even more worrying, however, is the rising incidence of obesity and severe obesity in young children. In the 2010-11 school year, 9.6% were obese and 5.5% severely obese. While this represents an increase of only 0.1% in each category over the previous year, the overall rates now mirror those in deprived areas four years ago, confirming the general upward trend.
Despite a stream of general advice about healthy eating and taking more exercise, and a specific £6 million programme of weight treatment initiatives set up four years ago to tackle childhood obesity, the problem of overweight children is a particularly intractable one.
It is vital to tackle it. The Scottish Government has been unable to deliver its promise of two hours of PE a week for every child but the lack of specialist teachers must not be used as an excuse. As older generations will recall, primary teachers can oversee simple exercises and active games with no need for specialist equipment.
The Scottish Government has introduced an anti-obesity action plan which takes a whole-society approach. This includes working with various sectors of the food industry to improve the quality of food and promote healthier products. This is welcome as a step in the right direction but the importance of instilling healthy habits at a young age cannot be overestimated. Schools and local authorities have a vital role to play, which should not be confined to lessons about nutrition and health. It is just as important to set an example be ensuring school lunches offer food that is both appetising and healthy and that sweets and sugary drinks are strongly discouraged.
The evidence is overwhelming that being severely overweight leads to problems from chronic knee pain to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It also restricts the pleasure and sense of achievement to be gained from taking part in sport. While no parent would deliberately curtail their children's lives in this way, far too many are doing so from lack of knowledge or mistaken kindness.
They are unlikely to benefit from a whole-society approach. The focus should be on families with children who are worryingly overweight before they get to school.
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