Experts call for action to tackle decline in children’s health

Children face a lifetime of “diet-related illnesses” unless action is taken to ensure they have access to healthy food, experts have said.

Campaigners said health issues caused by poor diets are “largely preventable”, as they called for action from the next government.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver said children “deserve so much more” as a new report highlighted a number of health-related outcomes for youngsters.

Jamie Oliver book
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver said children ‘deserve so much more’ (Joe Giddens/PA)

The Food Foundation said there has been a steady decline in children’s health across “multiple metrics”, including a rise in obesity, type 2 diabetes and undernutrition.

The report states that children’s dietary health “has not been taken sufficiently seriously” and “policy in this area has been lacklustre and wholly insufficient to address the severity of the problem”.

The “aggressive promotion of cheap junk food” and levels of food insecurity caused by poverty and deprivation mean that children are living in an environment that makes feeding them healthily an “almost impossibly difficult challenge”, the authors said.

And the cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the problem, they said as they called for action from the next government to “reverse the current trajectory”.

Anna Taylor, executive director at The Food Foundation, said: “The health problems being suffered by the UK’s children due to poor diet are entirely preventable.

“Politicians across the political spectrum must prioritise policies that give all children access to the nutrition they need to grow up healthily, as should be their right.”

Commenting on the report, Oliver said: “Decades of government neglect has meant kids are suffering from more obesity-related illnesses, leading to average heights shrinking and living shorter lives – they’re not being given the chance to be happy, healthy people. And they deserve so much more than that.

“We need to reverse this trend if we’re to have the healthiest generation of kids, and to do that we need to take a serious look at the food that fuels us. And right now, it’s not pretty.

“There’s no silver bullet to fix this, which is why we need a comprehensive approach that doesn’t just tinker around the edges but revolutionises the rules and fundamentally improves the quality of food across the board. The leader who understands this and gets serious about child health will be the person who turned the tide on obesity – and won.”

Former prime minister Gordon Brown said: “Every mother and father in the land will be concerned and shocked at what is happening to children through lack of nutrition living through the hungry 2020s in food bank Britain.”

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, said: “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, a devastating effect of poverty.”