More needs to be done to tackle the “obesity timebomb” in children, including identifying families who are in denial about their child’s weight, experts say.
New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says parents and children must be encouraged to face up to the fact that obesity can lead to health problems in later life.
“Efforts to manage a child or young person’s weight are not always supported, and are sometimes undermined, by members of the wider family,” it says.
“This is possibly because of a lack of understanding of the aims of lifestyle weight management programmes and the importance of managing the weight of obese or overweight children and young people.”
The guidance is intended for health professionals and those who provide specialist weight management services for children.
These programmes can include Weight Watchers and tend to focus on activity and exercise as much as healthy eating.
The guidance stresses it is “important it is to ensure the family and the child or young person recognise and accept that they are overweight or obese.
“Conversely, a lack of recognition or denial that the child or young person is overweight or obese can hinder uptake and adherence to a lifestyle weight management programme.”
Many overweight and obese children and young people may have, or come from a family with, a “history of failed attempts to manage their weight”, the guidance goes on.
A family’s attitudes towards diet, exercise and the amount of time spent being sedentary should all be explored, it added.
Children with at least one obese parent are more likely to become obese themselves, data in the report shows.
Up to 79% of children who are obese in their early teens are also likely to remain obese as adults, putting them at risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
In 2011 in England, around 30% of boys and girls aged two to 15 were either overweight or obese.
In the 2011/2012 school year, around 23% of children in reception and 34% in year 6 were either overweight or obese.
The new guidance recommends the promotion of lifestyle weight management programmes that encourage long-term changes in behaviour.
It says providers of these programmes must incorporate behaviour-changing techniques that can then be followed at home.
And it says “positive parenting skills training, including problem-solving skills” should be introduced to support changes in behaviour.
The guidance calls for information to help families “master skills” in reading food labels, ways to build activity into daily life and for providers to offer activities such as games, dancing and aerobics.
Providers and health workers should also be on their guard for signs of psychological distress, depression, bulimia, self-harming or other mental health problems in children which could be related to weight gain.
Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE, said: “Parents should not have to face the challenge of obesity on their own.
“Obesity in children and young people is a serious and growing concern.
“We are recommending family-based lifestyle programmes are provided which give tailored advice.
“These programmes will also support parents to identify changes that can be done at home to tackle obesity - and maintained over the long-term.
“Many of them are things we should all be doing anyway, including healthy eating, getting the whole family to be more active and reducing the amount of time spent watching TV and playing computer games.
“Being overweight or obese has a significant impact on a child’s quality of life.
“It can affect their self-esteem and they are more likely to be bullied or stigmatised. Local commissioners - including local authorities - need to make sure that the right services are available when families need them.
“They also need to be convenient and easy to access - so parents and their children can stick with them.”
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