More than a fifth of all five-year-olds in the Isle of Man are obese or overweight.
The shocking figures were released by the Department of Health’s public health division after Chief Minister Allan Bell launched a stinging attack on levels of childhood obesity.
Mr Bell said parents were responsible for ensuring their children eat properly and take enough exercise – and those who failed to do so could be guilty of neglect.
Now public health officials have given their backing to Mr Bell’s tough stance.
Public health consultant Dr Paul Emerson said: ‘The Chief Minister was right to be forthright.
‘If we refer to the problem in a round about way no one really listens or cares or takes notice – by being so forthright people have noted the issue.’
The figures, for 2012, show that just over 20 per cent of five-year-olds were overweight.
And of these, about half were obese.
Dr Emerson said obesity presents numerous health problems to both individuals and families especially with regard to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and joint problems.
‘We must also not forget the significant mental health problems that obesity causes to affected individuals (both adults and children),’ he said.
‘And it is not just the health related problems that are significant, obese people are less productive in work because of the illnesses and other problems they face causing more work absence than is found in normal weight individuals and the overall productivity of the nation is affected.
‘In addition, obese people and families have to be assisted by the welfare system more than normal weight individuals and families as a result of their increased illness and physical incapacities.’
He said that if present trends continue funding of the local healthcare system will have to change – because the diseases resulting from obesity are among the most expensive and disabling and that means some sort of extra taxpayer funded scheme must be introduced.
‘It is not for public health to determine what form that extra funding should take but the present situation is unsustainable,’ he said.
To tackle the issue, the public health division recently produced a local obesity framework.
Dr Emerson said it will mean significantly increased working and co-ordination across government and other sectors on the island such as planning policy, transport policy, educational policy and family education in order to achieve any success in bringing obesity levels down.
‘The starting point is parents, however, and parents need to be responsible both in terms of what their families eat and in the levels of activity they encourage from a very early age,’ he said.
‘Simple public health messages such as “more breastfeeding”, “better weaning practice” “less takeaways”, “less fizzy drinks”, “smaller portion sizes” and “less TV and games and more physical activity” are all vital.
‘So yes, we support the Chief Minister and are extremely encouraged that our political leaders are recognising the importance of setting about tackling this next great public health problem after tobacco.’