New data released today shows childhood obesity rates in England have increased significantly since the pandemic. Two-fifths of children aged 10-11 in England are now living with overweight and obesity.
This is the biggest increase in childhood obesity levels recorded to date with those from the most deprived backgrounds impacted most. Urgent action is needed to improve children’s health and address the socioeconomic factors.
The National Child Measurement Programme figures published today show the Body Mass Index (BMI) classification rates for English children in reception and year 6 by age, sex, ethnicity and region. The results show that 40.9% of children aged 10 to 11 are living with overweight (including obesity) and 25.5% are living with obesity. Of children aged 4-5, 27.7% are living with overweight (including obesity) and 14.4% are living with obesity. While the annual figures have shown gradual increases for years, the results following the pandemic have seen the biggest jump recorded since the programme started in 2006, with obesity rates increasing in both age groups by approximately 5%.
The data also shows that children living in the most deprived areas of the country are more than twice as likely to be living with obesity than children in the least deprived. The obesity rates and healthy weight rates are very clearly linked to the areas that children live in. Boys are also more likely to be living with obesity than girls (29.8% for boys compared to 21.7% of girls aged 10 to 11). Ethnicity is also shown to be linked to body weight, with black children most likely to be living with obesity.
The Government has announced plans to provide tailored weight loss treatment in 15 clinics across the country to help tackle childhood obesity. This is important in helping those at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes to reduce their chances of developing the condition. As children living in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to have obesity than those living in the least deprived areas, it is essential that these clinics target those most in need of support.
While expanding and improving the treatment clinics for children across England will help more to lead healthy lives, more must be done to address the systemic factors that stop children from living healthy lives. These include doing more to ensure that cheap unhealthy food is less widespread and not promoted to children, through reformulating processed food so that there is less fat, sugar and salt and building on new advertising restrictions. Fundamental change is also needed to support people from the most deprived backgrounds to live healthier lives. The increase in obesity during a time when children have been locked down and unable to attend school highlights the importance of being able to access nutritious school lunches and to have plenty of physical activity. Strengthening these aspects of the school day will play a key role in stopping the rising rates of obesity in children.
Nikki Joule, Policy Manager at Diabetes UK said:
“These figures provide a stark wake up call for Government to do more to support all children live healthy lives. Living with obesity significantly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition which is known to have more severe and acute consequences in children and young people. The environment we live in is a major contributing factor to rising levels of childhood obesity and, for too long, too many children have been exposed to unhealthy food. Measures such as restricting promotion of junk food and ensuring easier access to healthier food are vital if we are to reverse this worrying trajectory and guarantee healthier futures for the next generation.”