Lancaster University

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£1/4m grant to research childhood obesity

12/19/2006 11:21:06

Dr Garrath Williams
Dr Garrath Williams

Children who are obese after the age of two are likely to stay that way for life, according to a researcher at Lancaster University who has been awarded £1/4m to investigate the life-threatening condition.

More than 30,000 deaths are caused by obesity in England every year and the numbers are forecast to rise as more and more children become seriously overweight.The number of obese children has tripled in 20 years, with ten per cent of six year olds obese. On current trends, half the children in England will suffer from the condition by 2020, making them the first generation to die earlier than their parents.

Lancaster University is to carry out research about the implications of childhood obesity as part of a five year project funded by the European Commission. The project is led by the University of Bremen and involves universities and small and medium-sized enterprises from all over Europe.

Dr Garrath Williams, from the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, said the problem is not confined to the UK.

“The problem of childhood obesity is growing much more quickly in southern Europe, in places like Spain and Italy, than in northern Europe, presumably because of lifestyle changes.Europe needs to do something now because there are awful effects in later life, leading to conditions like heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. There are strong links with social class because it affects people from disadvantaged backgrounds more.

“But it’s not just a disadvantage in health terms, people lose out all round because of the stigma of obesity and loss of opportunities in all areas of life.That’s why this project is looking at children. If we don’t tackle the problem early in life, the evidence shows that it’s very difficult to make lifestyle changes later on. Children who are obese after the age of two are likely to be obese for life.”

Adult obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years and almost a quarter of Britons are now obese, with the condition costing the NHS £500m a year.

The project is called “Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants” and will look at children aged between 2 and 10 years old. It will examine children’s lifestyles, including consumer behaviour, and develop intervention strategies to prevent them becoming obese.

Dr Williams said: “The advertising industry spends millions advertising to children. Companies don’t want to market an apple, they want to market processed food with high profit margins. And we know that children are very susceptible to advertising and to branding.

“Obesity in children is a major problem and this project will look at what sort of things governments, schools and parents can do. Different countries may need different strategies for dealing with the same problem, but clearly there are also common factors across Europe. So we hope to be able to feed ideas into policy at national and European levels.”