Ditch the junk! Action plan to combat childhood obesity in West Midlands



Junk food adverts near schools could be banned under proposals to tackle childhood obesity in the West Midlands. 

Figures from Public Health England show a quarter of reception children aged four to five in the West Midlands are overweight or obese – rising to one in three by the time they reach Year Six (aged 10 – 11). 

More worryingly, the 2017 statistics show that one in five children in Year Six are not just overweight but officially classed as obese. 

The West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) Wellbeing Board today (Wednesday October 31) agreed to look at a number of measures to help reverse the rise in obesity levels. 

Potential interventions being explored include banning junk food adverts near schools and on the back of bus tickets. 

Initiatives to encourage schoolchildren to do more exercise are also being considered, including campaigns such as ‘West Midlands on the Move’ and the ‘Active Mile’ (or Daily Mile) programme where children are encouraged to walk up to a mile a day. Families could also be encouraged to take up cycling together. 

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, WMCA portfolio holder for Wellbeing and leader of Warwickshire County Council, said: “Obesity, and in particular childhood obesity, is a serious issue for our region and we need to tackle it as a matter of urgency. 

“Obesity poses a number of very real dangers for our children including emotional and behavioural problems stemming from low self-esteem and bullying and which can lead to absences from school. 

“There are also the physical health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, breathing difficulties and the risk of premature death in later life. 

“That’s why we have agreed to look seriously at a number of proposals including a ban on adverts on the back of bus ticket and near schools that promote food products that are high in fat, salt and sugar.” 

Cllr Seccombe said longer term plans by the WMCA to help reduce obesity could include a West Midlands-wide advertising ban on junk food, devolving the use of the Sugar Tax, which could be collected locally and used to fund ‘West Midlands on the Move’ activities and a regional campaign, bringing together the NHS, schools and the private and social sector to highlight the health dangers of obesity. 

The Commonwealth Games, which is being hosted by Birmingham in 2022, could also provide the catalyst for a number of health and fitness initiatives across the West Midlands. 

These could build on existing schemes such as: 

  • Man v Fat Football – originally launched by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, this 6-a-side league for overweight men is now UK-wide
  • Beat the Street – a 12-month programme which has been trialled in Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Sandwell, and involves tapping boxes on lampposts with prizes awarded
  • The Daily Active Mile – a Government scheme encouraging school children to walk or run for 15 minutes a day, already being promoted in Coventry, Wolverhampton and Warwickshire

Data from Public Health England suggests 66% of adults in the West Midlands are overweight or obese, with higher levels of obesity among older age groups and people from more deprived areas. 

Each year across the UK, obesity is thought to cost the NHS around £6.1 billion, cost the wider economy £27 billion, and results in more than 16 million sick days from work. 

The WMCA will now set up a Wellbeing group specifically to develop and support the anti-obesity agenda.

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