The Government in its recent election manifesto stated that
“A strong society needs strong families. We will improve the Troubled Families programme and champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support that they need to care for children…”
In this column last week, whilst discussing food banks, I quoted statistics on childhood obesity in which children from families with lower incomes were disproportionately overrepresented.
My source for this statistical analysis was the Nuffield Trust, based on data collected by the National Child Measurement Programme: One in five children in Year 6 (aged 10-11 years) were obese in 2017/18 (20.1%). Obesity in children aged 10-11 has increased by 2.6 percentage points since 2006/07. The proportion of children who were underweight has remained relatively stable over this time period.
There is a strong association between deprivation and obesity: In 2017/18, in Year 6 children obesity prevalence was over twice as high in the most deprived areas than the least deprived areas. Severe obesity prevalence was about four times as high in the most deprived areas than the least deprived areas.
In a rhetorical flourish I inferred that “the poorest are among the fattest”.
I’ve received a large number of emails agreeing with what I said. This puts me in the awkward position of having to disagree with my supporters, because I’ve reflected on it, and believe that referring to the ‘fattest’ was insensitive, so I apologise to anyone to whom I gave offence.
Furthermore, that statement is not a legitimate inference from the evidence I quoted: even when children from lower income backgrounds are overrepresented in the figures for obesity, it is equally possible for the richest to be amongst the fattest.
I believe that the conclusion that I drew however, remains valid, and I stand by it. We need to provide support and assistance to some low-income families which goes well beyond merely supplying them with increased benefits. Many need help that will enable them to shop more cost-effectively and healthily.
One of the places where such assistance could be located are Children Centres. They were a welcome innovation and I regret that so many were closed as a consequence of the squeeze on local authority budgets. That was an inevitable consequence of the financial situation that the coalition government inherited. Now, as the financial situation improves, it is essential that that Children Centres and Family Hubs feel the benefit. Accordingly, I hope that the manifesto commitment that I quoted is a statement of this intent, and I shall certainly campaign for it.