The Royal College of Nursing has warned of a “stark” need to tackle increasing obesity levels, especially in deprived areas, following the publication of new national data.
The college called for an end to the current pressure on council public health budgets, which has seen threats to some nurse-led services and a reduction in posts, especially in health visiting.
“It is of deep concern to us that public health budgets are under threat”
Latest data on national public health trends in England shows a decline in numbers of children and young people smoking and drinking, but suggests little progress on weight gain and obesity.
The 2015 Health Survey for England found that 16% of children aged eight to 15 reported ever having an alcoholic drink – the lowest level ever reported and down from a peak of 45% in 2003.
The figures, published yesterday by NHS Digital, also show the proportion of eight to 15 year olds who reported having ever smoked a cigarette has decreased from 19% in 2003 to just 4% in 2015.
The survey, which is intended to reveal trends in the nation’s health, also includes information on adult health and social care. However, for the 2015 survey, the number of two to 15 year olds included was increased to enable a specific focus on child health issues.
In 2015, 28% of children aged two to 15 were either overweight or obese. The proportion of boys who were overweight or obese was higher than the proportion of girls – 30% versus 26%.
NHS Digital said the data showed the prevalence of childhood obesity increased between 1995 – when it was first measured – and 2005, and had remained “relatively stable” at 14-17% since 2008.
However, the report noted though that children from lower income household were more likely to be obese compared with those from higher income households.
For example, 18% of children from households in the lowest income quintile were obese, compared with 9% of children living in households in the highest income quintile.
For the five to 15 age group, 22% of children met the physical activity guidelines of being moderately active for at least 60 minutes every day.
RCN warns of ‘profound public health challenges’
Helen Donovan, RCN professional lead for public health nursing, said: “We welcome having access to this data and the report showing the improving trends in reducing smoking and in alcohol consumption.
“However, it also highlights the profound challenges to the overall health of the nation,” she said. “There is a stark need to increase activity levels and reduce obesity in children and adults, especially for the most deprived families who may face multiple problems simultaneously.
“It is of deep concern to us that public health budgets are under threat around the country, just when we can see the difference that expert services can make,” said Ms Donovan.
“At the same time, threats to health visitor posts can mean that families are not helped onto the right track from the start,” she said.
She added: “Progress can be reversed quickly if help is not available – it would be a tragedy to see the health of the nation decline due to a short term lack of funding.”
Headline data from the survey on adult health:
- The prevalence of cigarette smoking has fallen from 28% in 1998 to 18% in 2015
- In 2015, the proportion of adults who reported that they were current e-cigarette users was 5%. This is an increase from 2013 when it was 3%
- The prevalence of adult obesity has remained between 24% and 27%, for men and women, from 2010 to 2015
- In 2015 over a quarter of adults (27%) were obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30kg/m2 or higher
- A further 41% of men and 31% of women were overweight, with a BMI of at least 25 but less than 30kg/m2
- 35% of men and 47% of women had “very high” waist measurements. This was more common in middle aged and older adults than it was among younger people
- In 2015, 83% of adults had drunk alcohol in the last 12 months. This figure has remained between 82% and 84% since 2011
- More than half (52%) of adults said they usually drank at least once a week, with men (60%) more likely to have done so than women (44%)
- Drinking over 14 units in a usual week was most common among men and women aged 55 to 64 (41% and 24%, respectively)