Soaring levels of obesity among primary school children has sparked alarm among healthcare bodies, who say more needs to be done to tackle childhood obesity and improve child health.
NHS Digital data, released yesterday, shows almost one in seven children aged four and five start primary school obese – jumping from 9.9% in 2019/20 to 14.4% in 2020/21. And 25.5% are obese by the time they finish primary school.
Similarly, the proportion of children at a healthy weight dropped during the same time frame from 76.1% to 71.3% for children in reception classes, and to 57.8% from 63.4% for 10-11-year-olds.
The figures also showed obesity prevalence among children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those in the least deprived areas.
Among reception-aged children, 20.3% the most deprived areas were obese, compared to 7.8% in the least deprived. In Year 6 schoolchildren, the proportion ranged from 33.8% living in the most deprived areas to 14.3% in the least deprived.
Healthcare leaders have warned the surge must be tackled, with Caroline Cerny, lead at the Obesity Health Alliance, arguing for ‘a relentless drive on improving children’s health’.
Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK said: ‘This new data, which shows that two-fifths of children aged 10-11 in England are living with overweight and obesity is hugely concerning, and it underlines why urgent action is needed to improve children’s health.’
However, Dr Max Davie, officer for health improvement at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, cautioned against assuming ‘sharp’ and ‘alarming’ increase was only because of lockdown.
He said: ‘While lockdown may have been a key factor, we mustn’t assume that this year’s results are an aberration since there may be other factors, including mental health difficulties, which will take time to address.
‘One factor we must focus on is poverty. Every year we see the gap between the most and least deprived children widen,’ he added.
The findings come after NHS England on 15 November announced the launch of 15 new specialist clinics to off intensive support to children and young people with severe obesity, as reported by Nursing in Practice‘s sister publication Healthcare Leader.
Earlier this year, the Government announced a £70m investment to tackle obesity, via a new GP enhanced service and 700,000 extra adults accessing weight management services.