Child obesity rising again, NHS report reveals

12Nov 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Child obesity rising again, NHS report reveals
  • Nearly 10 per cent of children in first year of primary school in England are obese, according to latest figures that also expose widening class divide

A growing number of children are becoming obese as young as four or five years old, NHS figures have shown, sparking renewed concern about the obesity crisis.

The number of obese ten and 11-year-olds in their last primary school year also rose from 19.1% in 2014-15 to 19.8% last year.

Obesity is rising among children both in their first and last years at primary school, according to the latest annual measurements of child body mass index (BMI) in England.

Overall, 9.3 per cent of four and five-year-olds in primary reception class in England in 2015-16 were classed as obese, up from 9.1 per cent the previous year, according to the national child measurement programme (NCMP).

The number of obese ten and 11-year-olds in their last primary school year also rose from 19.1 per cent to 19.8 per cent last year – nearly one in five.

Richmond upon Thames in south-west London has the fewest fat children in England. In the borough, 11 per cent of year six pupils are classed as obese. In contrast, in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham 28.5 per cent of children that age were found to be obese.

More boys are dangerously overweight than girls. Among reception pupils, 9.6 per cent of boys were obese compared to 9.1 per cent of girls. Similarly, 21.7 per cent of boys in year six were obese compared to 17.9 per cent of girls, according to the latest NCMP results published by NHS Digital.

The figures reveal that child obesity is rising again after falling slightly in 2014-15.
The statistics also underlined the stark class divide. NHS Digital’s report found that obesity prevalence for children in reception living in the most deprived areas (12.5 per cent) was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas (5.5 per cent). In year six, 26 per cent of children living in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 11.7 per cent in the least deprived areas.

Nationally, the number of reception children who are either overweight or obese has also risen, from 21.9 per cent to 22.1 percent. The same picture emerges with year six pupils, the number of whom found to be overweight or obese rose from 33.2 per cent to 34.2 per cent.

The figures come after Theresa May’s government was criticised for watering down the childhood obesity strategy that her predecessor, David Cameron, intended to publish. Health organisations, charities and campaigners such as Jamie Oliver have accused May of putting the interests of big business above those of public health and letting down children and families by publishing a “weak” action plan in August.

Experts voiced deep unease at the figures and upward trend. “It is deeply worrying that more children are leaving primary school overweight or obese than ever before and levels are increasing”, said Prof Kevin Fenton, the national director for health and wellbeing at Public Health England, which advises the government.

The number of obese ten and 11-year-olds is the highest since children began being routinely weighed and measured in 2006-07. In that year 17.5 per cent year 6 pupils were found to be in that category. Last year it was 19.8 per cent, even higher than the previous record of 19.2 per cent in 2011-12.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “Our nation has hit a devastating record high for childhood obesity. The trend over the last decade is showing no signs of slowing down, and this worrying news is something that could have been prevented with more government action.

“But the government still has a chance to save lives. It has already recognised the influence of junk food marketing on children by banning junk food advertising during children’s programmes. It’s time now to stop this influential marketing before 9pm.”

The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of health charities and medical organisations, said the figures should act as a wake-up call to ministers. “Year upon year, we are faced with sobering figures that reveal an increasingly worrying trend – the number of obese and overweight children in the UK is not falling and is in fact rising,” a spokesperson said.

“Today’s figures provide yet another wake-up call for all those intent on stemming the obesity epidemic – the alarm bells are ringing and there’s simply no time to hit the snooze button. These poor health outcomes mean we are failing our children, and future generations, if this trend continues,” said an alliance spokesman.

It wants the government to introduce its levy on highly-sugared soft drinks on time as planned in 2017 and “without dilution”, to restrict the marketing of junk food to children, both online and before the 9pm TV viewing watershed, and to push food manufacturers to introduce “ambitious” targets to reduce the amount of sugar in their products. (The Guardian—UK)