Child Obesity Rates up Again

Peter Russell

November 07, 2016

Almost 2 out of every 10 children in England are obese in the year they leave primary school, according to official figures.

The health service's research arm, NHS Digital, also found that the proportion of 10- to 11-year-olds in year 6 classed as obese went up from 19.1% in 2014 to 2015 to 19.8% last year.

A significant rise in obesity levels was also seen in children starting school in reception classes, where obesity levels went up from 9.1% to 9.3% in the same period.

'Devastating'

Health campaigners have described the increase as "devastating" and have renewed calls for the government to crackdown on children's exposure to junk food marketing.

Statistics gleaned from the National Childhood Measurement Programme, based on a sample of a million children at the start and end of their primary education, found that:

· 34.2% of children in year 6 was either overweight or obese during 2015-16

· 22.1% of children in reception classes were overweight or obese during the same 12-month period.

Class Divide

The findings also underline a stark contrast between those considered overweight or obese in richer and poorer areas of the country. In the more affluent Richmond upon Thames, obesity rates last year for kids in reception were 5.1% compared with 14.7% in Middlesbrough.

Once children were in their last year of primary school, Barking and Dagenham had the worst record, with 28.5% of children classed as overweight or obese, but Richmond upon Thames again had the best results with 11% of the area's children considered overweight or obese.

NHS Digital says that obesity rates in the last year for those in the most deprived communities were more than double those in the most affluent areas.

It says that for year 6 children, 26% living in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 11.7% in the least deprived areas.

Obesity rates were found to be higher among boys than girls in both age groups. In reception, 9.6% of boys and 9% of girls were considered obese. By year 6 the gap had widened, with 21.7% of boys and 17.9% of girls classed as being obese.

Junk Food

In his Budget in March, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a 'sugar tax' on the soft drinks industry as a measure to reduce growing childhood obesity rates.

However, over the summer, the government's delayed childhood obesity strategy was criticised as a "missed opportunity" for addressing the problem.

Doctors, dietitians and health campaigners said ministers had failed to address the problem of junk food advertising and marketing to younger people.

Several health organisations have commented on the latest findings in statements.

Fiona Smith from the Royal College of Nursing says: "Childhood obesity has been a problem for some years now, and it is alarming that despite widespread awareness, rates continue to rise.

"From diabetes to depression, every obese child is at risk of many more problems that can follow them into adulthood. By raising an obese nation, we’re storing up countless problems for the future and leading millions of children towards a life of ill health."

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, says: "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."

'A Stark Reminder'

Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, comments: "These latest statistics act as a stark reminder as to just how serious the UK’s obesity problem is. With over a fifth of reception children overweight or obese and a third of children in year 6 – a rise from last year’s figures, it is not an understatement to say we are entering a state of emergency.

"We cannot afford for the next generation of children to continue on this trajectory. Obesity is already costing the NHS over £6 billion – a figure it can ill afford – thanks to the development of conditions like type 2 diabetes and asthma, all of which we are seeing much earlier. This of course has a knock-on effect on NHS resources."

SOURCES:

NHS Digital

Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

Cancer Research UK

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)

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