County Council spending less on growing child obesity problem

Essex County Council is spending less and less on tackling child obesity, even as more and more children in the area become dangerously overweight.

The amount the council is planning to spend on the problem has fallen to a record low, analysis of the latest figures on local authority expenditure has revealed.

Essex Council has budgeted a total of just £166,000 to spend on child obesity during the 2020/21 financial year.

That might include expenditure on proactive follow-up to the mandatory National Child Measurement Programme, weight management interventions for children, and obesity prevention programmes.

The figure is down from the equivalent of £174,000 in 2019/20 and £218,000 the year before that, with figures adjusted for inflation.

In real terms, it is also the lowest amount seen since 2013/14, when local authorities were first given public health responsibilities – with the equivalent of £539,000 budgeted as recently as 2014/15.

In comparison, both Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock councils are expecting to spend more on child obesity this year than they did in 2019/20.

Southend has budgeted £115,000, up from the equivalent of £81,000, and Thurrock have budgeted £662,000, up massively from just £70,000.

There has also been a drop in spending on promoting physical activity in children, including active travel initiatives, sports-based interventions, and community-based schemes.

Essex Council budgeted just £6,000 for this purpose in 2020/21 – down from £9,000 the year before, and £80,000 back in 2014/15, adjusting for inflation.

Similarly, Southend Council’s budget for physical activity in children fell from £128,000 to £91,000 in the last year, while Thurrock council’s fell from £106,000 to £74,000.

Caroline Cerny, alliance lead at Obesity Health Alliance said: “These figures are concerning, but not surprising to see.

“Local authorities have been dealt significant budget cuts in recent years, which are having a knock-on effect on the level of service they are able to provide.

“The Government has vowed to halve childhood obesity by 2030, but to meet this target we need comprehensive action at national and local levels, with sustainable funding for vital local public health services.”

The figures come against a backdrop of rising childhood obesity across Essex.
Data from the National Child Measurement Programme revealed that 19.7 per cent of Year 6 pupils in Essex were classed as clinically obese in 2019/20.

The proportion is up from 17.9 per cent the year before, and is the highest seen since the programme first began in 2006/07.

The proportion in Essex compares to £19.7 per cent in Southend-on-Sea, up from 19.6 per cent, and 24.8 per cent in Thurrock, up from 22.4 per cent – the figure in both areas was also at a record high.

More local figures at ward level go up to 2018/19 – you can see the figures for your area by using our postcode-search gadget.

ECC has been contacted for comment

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter