Health experts issued a stark warning this week that a sizable proportion of British children are at risk of dying before their parents due to their poor diets and a lack of exercise.
Experts from the British Heart Foundation working with researchers from Oxford University issued what they are calling a “wake-up call” report that, solely on the basis of coronary heart disease, shows what appears to be a serious health situation.
The study, which analyzed national health data as provided by the NHS and other sources, found that among children and young people under 16, 30% are overweight or obese. In addition, around 80% of kids in the UK are missing eating their recommended minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, while only a minority are doing anywhere close to the recommended levels of daily exercise.
All this points to one very concerning fact: the fifty year trend of declining cardiovascular disease in the UK could reverse itself and even lead to kids today dying before their parents.
BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie is quoted as saying: “These figures are a warning that many of our children are in grave danger of developing coronary heart disease in the future if they continue to live the same lifestyle.”
Other worrying statistics include that almost half (47%) of boys and over a third of girls (36%) aged 13 will go without breakfast. Previous health research has demonstrated that missing this important meal increases the risk of cardiac events, reduces immunity, reduces mental efficiency and may increase the likelihood of obesity and diabetes in later life.
The study also found that kids are consuming a high number of soft drinks, despite health warnings that regular consumption is incredibly bad for long term health. The analysis found that 39% of girls and 43% of boys may consume a can of soda a day, while a significant proportion may consume even more.
The other major area of concern is the increasingly sedentary lifestyles found during the analysis. More than three quarters of girls and around 73% of boys fail to rack up even one hour of physical activity a day. In addition, as much as 25% of children spend at least six hours sitting down on Saturdays and Sundays.
The long term health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle are also well established. Aside from cardiovascular disease, couch potatoes can also expect an increased likelihood of developing diabetes, mental impairment, pulmonary embolism, thyroid problems, reduced fertility and more.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, told reporters that this study could not be brushed off easily. “This isn’t wishy-washy open-toed sandals stuff,” he is quoted as saying. “If we really want to compete with India and China we need fit, healthy adults. We’ve got used to the idea that our children aren’t going to be as well off as us, but we haven’t got used to the idea that they won’t be as healthy,” he said.
Given that childhood obesity isn’t just a concern for the UK but for most European countries and, indeed, a concern for the United States, what can be done?
The British Heart Foundation is committing £1.2 million to work with the UK’s National Health Service to expand action schemes that will deploy dietitians to specifically work with kids to overcome poor dietary habits, while the program will also be used to work on a number of schemes to set up exercise and weight management initiatives. This kind of intervention has been shown to yield positive results.
In fact, recent statistics show that the United States, for example, may be making progress on tackling these issues by virtue of several aggressive early intervention schemes that are supported by wider health incentives.
Still, more action will be needed if our future generations are to stand a chance of having a healthy old age — or, in some cases, even reaching their dotage at all.
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