Almost a fifth of top-tier councils appear not to have earmarked any funding for child obesity this year, according to official figures.
The figure emerged from an analysis of councils’ public health budget estimates for 2013-14, which were submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
LGC’s analysis found thirty-three councils across the country, including shire counties, London boroughs and metropolitan boroughs, have put no funding under the ‘child obesity’ heading.
Of the 33 councils identified by our anaylsis, six councils did allocate funding in a separate category of physical activities for children.
Councils are however contesting the official picture presented by the DCLG data, claiming it does not accurately reflect their actual spends on childhood obesity.
Jim McManus, director of public health at Hertfordshire CC, one of the 33 councils the DCLG data showed had allocated no funding to child obesity said it was actually spending £4m on related programmes.
“The official figures on which LGC’s analysis is based doesn’t reflect either that our children’s obesity spend is within the children’s budget or that we are in the process of allocating additional resources,” he said.
“Hertfordshire CC has prioritised child obesity. Our current spend is within our school nursing budgets with a total of £4m and includes the children’s measurement programme and obesity programme and other service, including training for children’s centres.
“We have a schools nutrition programme in development and are in the proces of commissioning further child obesity programmes to start in the current financial year.”
Councils became responsible for obesity services as part of the transfer of public health to local government, which took effect in April. However, they are not legally required to fund programmes to address child obesity.
The LGA said the data did not reflect the full picture, stressing that councils were tackling child obesity in a range of ways, such as through school meals and sports and leisure facilities, that may not show up in the data submitted to DCLG.
But Tam Fry, a spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, told LGC: “I’m not at all surprised that some councils haven’t allocated money to child obesity, but I do think it is appalling.
“I’ve been worrying for two years now that the NHS reforms, which land the problem of child obesity on local government, weren’t going to work.”
The research also found 62 councils had not allocated any funding under the heading of the national child measurement programme, under which children are weighed and measured at school. This is one of the mandatory services that councils must commission.
However, the LGA spokesman stressed that some councils delivered the national child measurement programme without counting it as a separate budget, for instance because it was covered by the staffing costs of school nurses.
Zoe Patrick (Lib Dem), chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Obesity, particularly childhood obesity, is one of the most serious public health issues facing this country and councils are using their new health responsibilities to really get to grips with this issue across a whole range of services including providing healthy school meals, school nurses, improving access to leisure and sport facilities and supporting families to be more active.
“Ultimately it is up to each council to use its local knowledge to assess local health priorities and allocate resources to target them, but all of them are working to address child obesity as part of the National Childhood Measurement Programme, which is often funded through the school nursing programme, and helps to identify children with weight issues and provide support for families to help their children be healthier.”
The councils that have not earmarked any funding for child obesity are below. Coventry, Halton, Plymouth, Southwark, Stockport and Wolverhampton have allocated funds to children’s physical activities.
|Isle of Wight|
|Isles of Scilly|
|Richmond upon Thames|