Halting the deadly rise in childhood obesity will not be achieved without stronger leadership from the top, warns a stark new report from three UK watchdogs.
An investigation published today by the Audit Commission, the Healthcare Commission and the National Audit Office warns that a lack of guidance and coordination means that the government's vaunted aim of halting the rise in obesity in children under 11 is unlikely to materialise.
"Without greater clarity, those further down the delivery chain may be wasting resources on ineffective or inappropriate interventions that fail to target those children most at risk," says the report.
This is the third in a series of studies examining the effectiveness of the mechanisms to deliver government Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets.
This particular report investigated the strength and efficiency of that part of the delivery chain that aims to reduce obesity in children between the ages of 5 and 10.
The child obesity PSA target was set in July 2004, but the key ingredients of the delivery plan will not be published until May 2006. The target 'to halt the increase in obesity among children under the age of 11 by 2010' was set in response to a jump in the growth of childhood obesity.
The incidence of childhood obesity grew from 9.6 per cent in 1995 to 13.7 per cent in 2003.
The target is jointly owned by Department of Health, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Department for Education and Skills.
Obesity now costs the NHS around £ 1.6 billion a year and the UK economy a further £ 2.3 billion of indirect costs. If this trend continues, the annual cost to the economy could be £ 3.6 billion a year by 2010.
"Tackling childhood obesity is a government wide priority," said public health minister Caroline Flint.
"Our public health agenda is the first concerted attempt to seriously tackle rising levels of obesity. We know that leadership and co-ordination are going to be crucial as is giving people information and support in making a difference to their own lives."
But the report emphasises that these words must be turned into action if targets are to be met.
"Central Government must set a clear direction if we are to tackle obesity in children," said Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office.
"There is now a need for the three departments to work closely together to provide the leadership and direction that the whole delivery chain requires."
The report recommends greater clarity and direction from central government. It says that it is essential that the three departments work closely together to provide strong leadership.
In addition, a better definition of regional roles and responsibilities is needed. Government offices for the regions could play a greater role in bringing together the various elements of the delivery chain.
"We recognise we need to do more," said Flint. "We will continue to develop our work across government and the public sector to ensure that we stay on track to meet our target to halt the year on year increase of childhood obesity by 2010."
The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high quality local services for the public. The Healthcare Commission exists to promote improvements in the quality of healthcare and public health in England and Wales.