Health chiefs in the UK are calling for an emergency task force similar to the government's Cobra for terrorism and national disasters to deal with child obesity, otherwise “an entire generation will be destroyed by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks”.

In an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, and timed to coincide with the start of the new school term - the Royal College of General Practitioners and 11 partner organisations are recommending that a national Child Obesity Action Group (COAG) be set up “as a matter of urgency”. They call for a number of measures including increased support for the National Child Measurement Programme and more investment in  IT programmes for weight management.

The health groups are also demanding more training in malnutrition and obesity for GPs and other health professionals, plus outreach projects to educate families. Rachel Pryke, RCGP clinical lead for nutrition, said: “The nutritional patterns laid out in early years can define a child’s health for life and the stark fact is that overweight children are being set up for a lifetime of sickness and health problems. We are in danger of destroying  the health of a whole generation of children”.

She went on to condemn “a postcode lottery with many areas having limited or no child obesity treatment services at all. “We cannot allow our young people to become malnourished, squandering their childhood and vitality hunched over computer consoles and gorging on junk food. We have reached a state of emergency”.

Richard Roope, RCGP clinical lead for cancer, noted that “for the first time, we have a generation of patients who may  predecease their parents”, saying that only 3% of the public associate weight with cancer, “yet, after smoking, obesity is the biggest reversible factor in cancers”.

He went on to call for radical steps, “at the very least levying tax on sugary drinks. We’ve seen this approach work with smoking”. Dr Roope said “we have a huge problem on our hands when seven year olds present in our surgeries with type 2 diabetes “, adding that “our children are currently amongst the most overweight in Europe. This statistic is something that we should all be extremely ashamed of”.