Breastfeeding could aid childhood obesity battle

By on 31/05/2013 in News

Low rates of breastfeeding across Birmingham could be contributing to the city’s childhood obesity problem.

As the city’s public health bosses set ambitious targets to cut childhood obesity over the next five years, a new report has suggested a wide range of measures, including making breastfeeding in public more socially acceptable.

Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, has drawn up a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA*) looking at how Birmingham tackles the issue of childhood obesity.

And he has warned there will be no overnight solution to an issue that was identified as one of the major challenges when Birmingham City Council assumed responsibilities for public health in April.

The report calls for action in three key areas:

  1. Environment - By using Council leadership in changing the local environment through policy changes.
  2. Behaviour - By implementation of universal behaviour change to increase healthy eating and physical exertion in schools.
  3. Opportunity - By increasing local opportunities for healthy eating and physical exertion by children.

Factors driving our obesity epidemic fall into 3 categories:

  1. Environment - we have an environment that encourages low physical effort, with more car journeys at the expense of walking etc. We have allowed unhealthy food options to proliferate in our society, often at the expense of healthy options, especially close to schools.
  2. Behaviour - we have adopted behaviour that complements our environment, especially concerning eating high-calorific foods. This is often driven by evidence-based marketing.
  3. Opportunity - we have developed few opportunities for children to undertake appealing physical exertion or enjoy healthy food options, especially early in life.

Reducing obesity across a population needs to focus on prevention rather than treatment and possible measures include:

  • Reducing fast food shops, especially near schools.
  • Making walking safer (e.g. through speed and parking restrictions near schools)
  • Encouraging businesses that sell and promote healthy food.
  • Encouraging businesses that offer physical activity to children.
  • Changing Unitary Development Plans to encourage walking and cycling and less reliance on cars.
  • Making breastfeeding in public socially acceptable.
  • Having school meals that are appealing and healthy.
  • Ensuring school dining facilities are “exciting” with staff highlighting their appeal.
  • Ensuring access to low cost, high excitement activities.
  • Local “play” facilities that are safe.

Dr Phillips said: “There are many reasons why childhood obesity rates are high in the city and lack of breastfeeding is certainly one of the factors. Breastfeeding is important and it has quite a role to play.

“I think as human beings we are designed to be fed by our mothers. When a child suckles it is taking in enough nutrients for its needs.

“Babies tend to take in enough breast milk for their needs and do not take more than they need.

“However, formula feeds are calorific so the baby will put on more weight. It can also be easy to overfeed on this type of milk.

“One of the good things about breastfeeding is that it is difficult to overfeed.”

* Joint strategic needs assessments (JSNAs) analyse the health needs of populations to inform and guide commissioning of health, well-being and social care services within local authority areas. The JSNA will underpin the health and well-being strategies, a proposed new statutory requirement and commissioning plans.

The main goal of a JSNA is to accurately assess the health needs of a local population in order to improve the physical and mental health and well-being of individuals and communities. The NHS and upper-tier local authorities have had a statutory duty to produce an annual JSNA since 2007.

Download the JSNA report.

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