Too many children look like this because they eat too many of this type of product and drink too much sugary drinks. Burgers and chips need to be treats and not part of a staple diet

The number of children and young people being treated for Type 2 diabetes, which is normally only seen in adults and often linked to obesity, has soared by around 40 per cent in just four years to more than 700 cases. These figures underline the critical need to urgently tackle the childhood obesity crisis.

While not every case of Type 2 diabetes is as a result of being overweight and obese, it is the single greatest risk factor.

According to latest figures for 2016/17 from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 715 children and young people under the age of 25 received care for Type 2 diabetes from Paediatric Diabetes Units in England and Wales, of which 78.6 per cent were also obese.

The latest data shows an increase of 41 per cent on the 507 cases from 2013/14.

However, as these figures only relate to those treated in paediatric practice, and not for example, primary care, the actual number of young people with Type 2 diabetes is likely to be even higher.

Type 2 diabetes can lead to a range of serious health problems such as blindness, heart disease, kidney failure and lower limb amputation.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 is largely preventable and is closely linked to lifestyle, such as unhealthy eating or lack of exercise.

The first cases of Type 2 diabetes in children were diagnosed in overweight girls of Asian ethnic origin in 2000 and first reported in white adolescents in 2002.

Councils also say more needs to be done to reach out to black and minority ethnic groups, where there is a disproportionately higher number of children and young people with Type 2 diabetes. Nearly half of those receiving care for the condition from Paediatric Diabetes Units were black or Asian.

Earlier this year, the LGA revealed that 22,000 children are classed as severely obese – the most overweight scale – when they leave primary school.

It says as a minimum, the Government should reverse the £600 million cut to councils’ public health funding, which is used to invest in fighting obesity. Councils are also calling for specialised support for the most seriously obese children.

These figures are a sad indictment of how we have collectively failed as a society to tackle childhood obesity, one of the biggest health challenges we face.

Type 2 diabetes typically develops in adults over the age of 40, so while still rare in children, it is extremely worrying that we are seeing more young people develop the condition.

Although there are a number of risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, some of which are out of our control, one of the most important risk factors is being overweight or obese, which we can do something about.

The Government’s childhood obesity plan sets out bold ambitions to halve the number of obese children by 2030, but we need urgent action now. Type 2 diabetes can be a lifelong debilitating illness and these figures will only multiply if we delay.

Councils with their public health responsibilities are on the frontline fighting obesity but for this to work effectively they need to be properly resourced. Cutting their public health funding is short-sighted and undermines any attempt to help our children live healthy and fulfilling lives.

But we must not forget the crucial role that parents have in preventing childhood obesity. It is all too easy to wave the finger at mums and dads of obese children and accuse them of being poor parents and not knowing or not caring what their children eat and drink. That is undoubtedly true in some cases but in others Mums and Dads are having to make very difficult choices. Too often, especially during school holidays, parents cannot afford proper food. They make sure that children have full stomachs by buying food that is high in sugar, salt and fats.

To tackle the obesity epidemic in children needs concerted actions from parents; schools, councils; Public Health England and the Government. Our joint failure to act strongly enough on this vital issue affecting children today, the adults they will become and the costs on the NHS for decades is a disgrace. We must all do better.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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