MPs lambaste dithering government for lack of progress on child obesity

Public health minister Caroline Flint has been forced to defend the government’s record on tackling childhood obesity following a critical report from MPs.

The public accounts committee criticised ministers and officials at three government departments for failing to take “concrete action” to meet a three-year-old target to halt childhood obesity by 2010

The Public Accounts Committee report on tackling obesity in children, published today, concludes that “with little concrete action yet taken, much will need to be achieved in the remaining three and a half years if the target is to be met”.

The Public Service Agreement target was established in 2004, with responsibility for delivering it shared between the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Health, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

However, the committee of MPs said confusion still existed over each department’s precise role and responsibilities. A lack of research into the effectiveness of prevention and treatment strategies also meant the departments had done little to date to intervene directly with obese children or their parents.

“Halting the growth of childhood obesity means changing how children and their families behave and that requires many parts of government acting together,” said PAC chair Edward Leigh MP. “It is lamentable that, long after the target was set, there is still so much dithering and confusion and so little coordination.”

Leigh insisted that all schools that identified a child as overweight or obese had a duty to inform their parents, and that to do otherwise would amount to keeping them in the dark about possible serious health risks.

The committee report said the Department of Health was now reconsidering how and when parents should be told such information, potentially reversing an earlier decision not to inform parents because of a concern about stigmatisation and bullying.

Responding to the MPs’ criticisms, public health minister Caroline Flint insisted an “enormous amount” had already been achieved, but that the obesity challenge could not be tackled by government alone.

Contact the author: Lauren Revans

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