Childhood obesity should be treated as a “national emergency”, broadcaster Floella Benjamin has said.
A cross-party group of MPs and peers chaired by Baroness Benjamin has called for a Cabinet-level minister for children to lead the fight against the problem.
“There should be somebody at Cabinet level to coordinate strategy across all departments for the sake of our children’s long-term well-being”
Lady Benjamin, a Liberal Democrat peer, told the House of Lords: “Childhood obesity has become an epidemic across the country. Forty per cent of children in some areas are overweight.
“Medical and dental experts are raising concerns about obesity health issues in children,” she said. “Millions are being spent by the NHS because of this.
“This epidemic has to be called a national emergency. There should be somebody at Cabinet level to coordinate strategy across all relevant government departments for the sake of our children’s long-term well-being,” she added.
Her comments came at question time in the Lords on the same day as All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood published its report calling for a comprehensive obesity strategy.
But health minister Earl Howe defended the government’s record and said the ministers had published a cross-departmental strategy on the issue in 2011.
“We are seeing encouraging signs of progress with obesity rates in children falling to 14% in 2012, the lowest level since 1998,” he said.
And he told peers: “Tackling obesity is one of our major priorities as it is for Public Health England. We have a well-developed and wide-ranging programme of actions to tackle obesity. We have set an ambition for a downward trend in excess weight in children.”
He added: “As regards coordination, Public Health England are leaders of the Public Health system and there are numerous government departments contributing to the anti-obesity agenda.
“We do have a minister for children and we have already established the obesity review group which brings together a range of experts and delivery partners from across the system to try to coordinate efforts to meet our national ambitions.”