Analysis

Giving children the best start in life

Much has been made by government and policymakers of the need for the NHS to become efficient in return for the extra investment being made during this parliament. But there is another element that NHS England’s Five-Year Forward View flagged up last year – the need for people to live healthier lives

Much has been made by government and policymakers of the need for the NHS to become efficient in return for the extra investment being made during this parliament. But there is another element that NHS England’s Five-Year Forward View flagged up last year – the need for people to live healthier lives.

Top of the agenda in this drive is obesity. NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has even gone as far to describe it as ‘the new smoking’. It is easy to see why when it comes to children. By the start of primary school one in five children are overweight or obese. By the end one in three are.

In recent weeks, the focus has been on sugar consumption. In July the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which advises government, suggested no more than 5% of daily calories should come from added sugar – half the level of the previous recommendation. Children aged between four and 18 get about three times that amount. Such high levels of consumption have prompted the British Medical Association to call for a tax on sugary drinks in its recent report, Food for Thought.

Role of NHS staff

But what is the role of NHS staff – and in particular, nurses – in all this? As well as taking aim at the sugar industry, the BMA report talked about the need for health staff to become ‘advocates’ for healthier lifestyles. A similar message has been delivered by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in two recent quality standards. The first, Obesity: Prevention and Lifestyle Weight Management in Children and Young People, talked about the need for hospitals and other NHS venues to ensure healthy options are available, while ensuring those that need it were identified and given information about lifestyle weight management programmes.

The second standard, Nutrition: Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition, focused on what support should be given to women before and immediately after birth. It said the NHS must ensure antenatal and health visitor services advise women about the need to eat healthily and that women with a body mass index of 30 or more after childbirth are offered access to a structured weight-loss programme.

Best start

NICE deputy chief executive Professor Gillian Leng says if obesity is going to be tackled it is essential that children are given ‘the best start in life’.

Plymouth University nutrition expert Gail Rees agrees. ‘Tackling obesity requires action on many different levels, from getting tough on industry to having open and honest conversations. At the end of the day, it is everyone’s problem and we should all be worried about it.’

More information

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition

Food for Thought

Obesity: Prevention and Lifestyle Weight Management in Children and Young People

Nutrition: Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition

 

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs