This weekend, hundreds of primary school children will begin opting for water instead of sugary soft drinks and energy drinks as part of Fizz Free February, Southwark Council’s campaign to reduce incidence of childhood obesity. Local authorities across England are joining Southwark in discussing how to identify hidden sugars that can trigger unhealthy eating habits and contribute to difficulty in children maintaining healthy weight during their physical development.
NHS figures indicate 29% of children aged ten and 11 are classed as obese based on their body mass index or BMI. Southwark’s demographic demonstrate higher incidence of obesity in children than other London boroughs. The council has recognised this and is actively tackling the issue through its Healthy Weight Management Strategy.
Other than hidden sugars in soft drinks, links to obesity have been established to children in deprived areas, genetic predisposition and switching to ‘low sugar’ or ‘no sugar’ brands which are often marketed as diet drinks and may give the impression of being a healthier option. Research shows artificial sweeteners like Aspertame are 200 times sweeter than natural sugars and stimulate appetites for sweet foods, like pastries, cake and biscuits which are highly calorific due to the combination of ingredients.
On 1 February, the campaign will launch in the press and social media with backing from community and celebrity influencers. Events will be held throughout the month. Primary schools in Southwark and across the country will deliver ‘Fizz Free February’ events designed to engage, inform and educate children about dietary choices that can impact their health for a lifetime. Peer to peer conversations will feature in this year’s activity where children can act as influencers to begin to change behaviours that can lead to healthier lifestyles from primary school age to young adulthood.
Councillor Evelyn Akoto, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Public Health for Southwark said: “Obesity prevention is crucial as we’re seeing so many children having their chances of a healthy life limited. We want to support parents, carers and children to make informed nutritional choices. Childhood obesity has a national impact as children who are obese mature. Adult obesity costs the NHS an estimated at £6.4bn annually. If levels of obesity continue to increase, healthcare costs may rise by a further £3bn by 2050. Southwark’s approach has earned national and international interest and is now a benchmark for best practice. “Fizz Free February” encourages everyone to join the conversation about healthier living.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I’m proud to be supporting Southwark’s Fizz Free February. We all have a role to play if we are to tackle the crisis of childhood obesity in our capital, and by making this simple change we can highlight the huge impact that sugar has on obesity and tooth decay. By tackling health inequalities and supporting Londoners to make healthy food choices, we can help to make our city healthier and reduce the increasing burden on our over-stretched health and care services.”
The Fizz Free February campaign will be delivered by Southwark Council and participating local authorities and primary schools locally and nationally from 1 – 29 February 2020