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Building a movement for change

By Dr. Lawrence Haddad

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Bite Back Youth Board

Right now, 3.3 million children in the UK are overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity cause great harm to our children. Public Health England outlines the grim consequences: low self-esteem, bullying, stigmatization; increased school absences; as children, difficulties breathing, bone and joint problems, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The numbers are simply staggering: 16% of 2-15 year olds are obese. In the most deprived areas, 12.8% of children in reception year are obese compared to 5.7% in the least deprived areas. In the most deprived areas, 26.8% of Year 6 kids are obese compared to 11.7% in the least deprived areas.  And the trends for children in the most deprived areas are going in the wrong direction: the problems are getting worse.

As adults, these kids will face an increased risk of being obese and suffering from chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and early death. Put another way, in the UK in the last 3 years, there have been 26,378 diabetes-related lower limb amputations in adults[1] -- more than 60 times as many amputations suffered by UK Service personnel in all war zone locations since 2001[2].  

The scale, severity and trends in child obesity demand a special response.  In 2018 the UK government announced new measures to halve, by 2030, the number of children who are obese.  But childhood obesity is a complex problem to address.  So many things have to go right: the right foods have to be in the right place at the right price with the right attractiveness at the right times. And it has to be easier to get more exercise.  This is a whole of society challenge. The government has no chance of achieving this without help from civil society, businesses and scientists.  Most importantly it has little chance of achieving this without the active participation and leadership of youth.  

This is why I was delighted to accept an invitation to be the Chair of the Board of Bite Back 2030.  Bite Back 2030 is a new non-profit that exists for a healthier generation.  It will empower young people with the knowledge of the unjust and misleading tactics being used by many actors in the food system. It will support young activists to explore what they want to do about those tactics; setting and achieving their vision for the future.

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Young people will be front and centre as agents of change, not as recipients of other people’s programmes.
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This principle, this right, is so important and it really speaks to me. Importantly, Bite Back 2030 will bring together an alliance of leaders from government, business and civil society all of who want to imagine and work towards a healthier future that young people demand.  And there are lots of great initiatives out there to do this and Bite Back 2030 is about everyone working together to change the whole system. 

Five key areas for action have resonated strongly with the Youth Advisory Board:  market foods responsibly, develop easy to understand labels, improve the nutritional quality of school meals, make it easier to buy healthy food on the high street and raise awareness at AGMs of what the businesses are and are not doing to promote healthy food environments.  

The launch of Bite Back 2030 this week is the first step towards the building of a movement for change.  Change is not easy.  Kids will find it hard to change their habits (I have two teenagers of my own), but they will find it easier if the world around them helps them to do it.  And make no mistake, there are a lot of vested interests who will have a lot to lose from changing this world. But they also have a lot to gain. Those who are the first movers in this space will benefit hugely—they will be seen as the pioneers, the heroes, and the champions of the public good.  Halving childhood obesity is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.  Join us.

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