July 22, 2024

The average height of England’s 5-year-olds has fallen over the last eleven years, while rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes have increased, a charity report shows.

The Food Foundation argues that calorie-dense but nutrient-poor diets are worsening health outcomes for younger generations. Behind these diets, the organization stats, are poverty-driven food insecurity, unhealthy environments that make it hard to provide good meals and the “agressive promotion of cheap junk food.”

Obesity has risen by almost a third since 2006 in kids aged 10 to 11, and diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes among under-25s have gone up by 22% over the last 5 years, the report found.

England’s newborns can expect to spend a year less in good health than those born 10 years ago, it states.

The Food Foundation used government data to produce the report, which it argues paints “a worrying picture” of the current state of child health and reveals “the worsening trajectory that they are facing.”

Sir Michael Marmot, who leads the University College London’s Institute of Health Equity said in a statement: “We used to think of the combination of undernutrition and obesity as a feature of low and middle income countries. We are now seeing it in Britain in 2024.”

Marmot, who is a Food Foundation trustee, previously authored two landmark reviews into the health impacts of England’s growing inequalities.

The Food Foundation argues the public is at a “crucial juncture” for child health, with the opportunity to “we evaluate our national priorities” around the corner.

The public are widely expected to install a Labour government when they head to the polls for a general election on July 4th. Various polls predict the Conservatives, who have been in power four 14 years, will lose hundreds of seats. Some even predict the Liberal Democrats, a much smaller party, may overtake them.

The Labour party are considered centre-left, while the Conservatives are traditionally centre-right. But the party has arguably lent further right as smaller rival right-wing parties — like Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Indepence Party and, now, Reform U.K. — have gained steam. The Liberal Democrats are traditionally a centrist party with socially liberal ideals.

Both the Lib Dems and the Labour party have pledged to address inequality in some form if they make it to government. The Conservative party manifesto promises to increase regulation on advertising unhealthy food to kids and better research the effects of ultra-processed food. It does not contain the word “inequality,” and it mentions “poverty” only once, in the context of international development.

You can read my summary of the three main party’s health policy pledges here.

Henry Dimbleby, who performed an independent review into national food strategy said in response to the Food Foundation report: “The decline in children’s health shown clearly in this report is a shocking and deeply sad result of the failures of the food system in the UK. We need the next Government to take decisive action to make healthy and sustainable food affordable, stop the junk food escalation and to realise that investing in children’s health is an investment in the future of the country.”


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