'Children won't live as long as their parents if we don't tackle obesity' says Wales' top doctor

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If Wales doesn't tackle obesity there is a risk the children of today won't live as long as their parents - that's the warning from Wales' top doctor.

Dr Frank Atherton, Wales' Chief Medical Officer made the comment has he launched a consultation on the Welsh Government's strategy to tackle obesity.

Take part in the consultation.

The risk is that the children who exist now will have a worse live expectancy than their parents' generation and that would be a disaster.

We've seen in Wales and in developed countries generally a general increase in life expectancy and health status over the last 100 years.

We don't want to see that overturned by people being overweight and obese.

– Dr Frank Atherton, Wales' Chief Medical Officer

The Welsh Government strategy, called Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales, lists a series of ambitions to help reduce the number of people in Wales who are overweight or obese.

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Possible measures that people are being asked to give their views on include:

  • Limiting the promotion of unhealthy foods in TV and online advertising
  • Making healthy foods cheaper and more easily accessible
  • Banning the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.

Public health chiefs behind the plans say they've looked at research and actions taken around the world to combat the increase in obesity levels.

Obesity by numbers:

More than 4,000 children aged 4-5 in Wales are obese
The number of adults who become obese each year in Wales
The number of adults in Wales who are obese, according to the Welsh Government

The strategy, however, has been criticised for actually contributing to the misunderstandings around healthy diet, weight and body image.

Dr Ashley Frawley, a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at Swansea University, has published research that casts doubt over how effective policies such as those proposed by the Welsh Government are.

Dr Frawley says the government's ambitions play into issues around body image.

Dr Frawley said the strategy "encourages body shaming."

The document talked about a link between being overweight and poor mental health outcomes and stigma and they don't think that it's a culture that sees the way people's bodies look as the be all and end all and I think that's really really dangerous particularly when they go to schools and talk to children about this.

Children get that message that the way my body looks is indicative of how good a person I am and how worthy I am.

– Dr Ashley Frawley, Swansea University lecturer

Dr Frawley added that there was limited evidence to show the plans set out by Welsh Government work, saying: "These are symbolic policies. They're ways of saying I'm doing a good thing, we're going to stamp out sugar. Why? Not because it's going to bring people's weights down but because sugar symbolises evil, it symbolises gluttony."

Tackling the root causes of why people become overweight is complex; it will require intervention at every level.

We are under no illusion - there is no quick fix or easy solution to this problem. The proposals outlined today are based on the best evidence available of what could work to turn the tide on obesity.

This is an issue we simply cannot ignore, it is the greatest public health challenge facing our generation.

– Vaughan Gething AM, Health Minister