On World Obesity Day, young people can help develop solutions that work says Amy Davies.
A third of children in the UK are overweight or obese. This significant public health challenge can cause a range of chronic health problems and is linked to low self-esteem, poor exam results, and reduced overall life chances.
But obesity is about poverty too.
Young people from low-income groups are at particular risk – whether this is because of low levels of health education, parental obesity, lack of physical activity, or the financial cost of eating healthily. Aggressive marketing of unhealthy food to children and young people and the number of cheap takeaways in deprived areas are also important factors.
National Children’s Bureau has recently published findings from the European Youth Tackling Obesity (EYTO) project which we led with partners across Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. EYTO, a youth-led social marketing project, supported groups of young people across Europe to promote healthy lifestyles amongst their peers and help reduce rates of obesity.
We found that long-term changes to behaviour requires a collaborative approach between young people, parents and professionals in the community.
In particular young people underlined the impact of their own voices in healthy lifestyle campaigns. A youth-led and peer-to-peer approach that places young people at the centre of public health initiatives can ensure that interventions are accessible and appealing.
Young people participating in EYTO also stressed that positive and inspirational messaging which makes an emotional connection, is more likely to motivate them to live well.
But progress in reducing rates of child obesity will also depend on supporting parents to provide healthy food at home, and some groups of children will require targeted support to overcome the barriers presented by language, disability and, of course, poverty.
We hope that this holistic approach will be a feature of the Government’s new Child Obesity Strategy. The young people working with EYTO were clear that solving the problem of obesity is a challenge that ought to involve us all: communities, food manufacturers and retailers, schools and colleges, parents and policymakers.
Only by working together can we change what foods and drinks are available in different settings, and to give individuals the understanding, resources and opportunities to make healthier choices for themselves.
For further information about the EYTO project, our findings and to access practical tools to help replicate our approach please visit www.eyto.org.uk