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Childhood Obesity

In this series of articles, our medical students will discuss a range of topics from medical ethics to the NHS to public health to medical conditions to clinical governance


Childhood obesity has been increasing over the years. For example, in 1990, 15% of children aged 10-11 were overweight or obese, which has increased to 34% in 2017/18. This issue is most common among girls – the UK has one of the highest levels of obese girls in the world. This is a major concern – if a child is obese, they are likely to stay obese into adulthood. Therefore, they are more likely to develop complications such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes prematurely. Not only can it affect their physical health, but it can also affect their mental health – children with obesity are more likely to have lower self-esteem, affecting their confidence in school and leading to them have less friends.

Even though there are some genes linked to holding extra weight, such as the four genes MC4R, PCSK1, POMC and BDNF, obesity is generally linked to consuming a higher number of calories than one is burning off. Factors contributing to this can be environmental, lifestyle and cultural. For example, culturally, first-generation Asian and Latino adolescents consume more fruit and vegetables and less soda than white adolescents. Also, it has been found that childhood obesity is more common in poorer locations – this is a lifestyle factor. For example, in the most deprived areas, about 27% of children aged 10-11 are obese, whereas only about 13% are in least deprived areas.

Because of these statistics, there have been interventions to try and stop this crisis. For example, the sugary drink tax, which was brought to effect in April 2018. This means that drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100 millilitres are now taxed 18p per litre. The tax rises to 24p per litre for drinks with more than 8g of sugar per 100 millilitres. The hope is that it will deter people from buying them and therefore children will not drink as many, and therefore will not become obese.

Another law that could soon be put in place is the banning of junk food advertisement before 9pm. Junk food advertisements on children TV shows have already been banned since 2007. However, it hasn’t been proven to be entirely effective so far. Only 26% of children watch children’s television, and therefore the rest of the children would still be able to see the advertisements on other TV channels.

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