Obesity and alcohol problems are major public health challenges that are still not being properly addressed by the NHS, with health workers often unaware of the “shocking” statistics surrounding the issues, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
Peter Carter said recent NHS system reforms had created a distraction from the public health agenda, which should now become one of the top priorities for the future government to tackle.
He said healthcare staff often did not know the scale of child obesity and alcohol abuse, which recent statistics have proven to be escalating.
“If you put together the obesity challenge and alcohol problem… what you have is major challenges that we are still not facing up to”
Speaking at the Florence Nightingale Foundation annual conference on Thursday, he pointed to national statistics for England that showed during 2013-14, 19% of children in Year 6 – aged 10 to 11 – were obese and a further 14% were overweight.
Meanwhile, he said national figures from 2012 showed around 28% of children in England aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese.
“That is a shocking statistic… That is a massive proportion of our children that at that age have these obesity problems and this audience won’t need me to dilate too much on what the implications are of that,” said Mr Carter.
“We have to talk about this and understand what is going on with our children that so many of them are obese,” he added.
He also highlighted the rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions among 15 to 24 year-old male patients having increased by 57% in the past 10 years, from 18,265 in 2002 to 28,747 in 2010.
Female hospitals admissions have also increased over the same period, by 57%, from 15,233 in 2002 to 26,908 in 2010, according to figures from the charity Alcohol Concern.
The prevalence of underage drinking among children England is now widespread, said the RCN chief executive and general secretary – referring to statistics that showed 43% of all 11 to15 year olds reported having drunk alcohol at least once.
“Health workers are often unaware of these statistics, let alone the general public and parents,” he said.
“What we are saying is if you put together the obesity challenge and alcohol problem – and they are only two I am going to mention because of time constraints – and what you have is major challenges that we are still not facing up to.
“This over the next five years should be one of the things that should be at the top of the list for whoever wins the general election,” said Mr Carter.