The differences in obesity rates between children from the most and least deprived areas of England, as revealed in data published today, is ‘nothing short of a national scandal’, school nurse leader Sharon White has said.
The annual results of the National Child Measurement Programme found that childhood obesity rates in year 6 children (aged 10 or 11) were over twice as high in the most deprived areas in England as the least deprived – at 31.3% compared to 13.5%.
The data also revealed that extreme obesity among year six children was over four times as common in the most deprived areas, where 9.2% of children live with extreme obesity. compared with only 2.1% in the least deprived areas.
Children with a BMI centile of between 95 and 100 are classified as “Living with obesity” and those with a BMI centile of between 99.6 and 100 are classified as “Living with severe obesity”.
Sharon White, CEO of the School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA), told Nursing in Practice that ‘today’s data on childhood obesity is nothing short of a national scandal’ , arguing that it presented a ‘further example of the widening health inequalities for our children’s young people and families’.
She added: ‘School nurses have a key role in prevention, early help, support, signpost, referral and advocacy, however, as the cost-of-living crisis begins to hit harder in our colder months, we fear this will become an ever-harder task.
‘Reinvestment is urgently needed into our services alongside a renewed cross-Government commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of children.’
While the data did show that average obesity rates had slightly declined year on year, falling from 25.5% to 23.4% among year six children, this is still higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Childhood obesity rates had remained relatively stable between 2006/7 and 2018/19, but increased by around 50% in 2019/20 – from 9.9% to 14.4%. This large increase coincided with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since then, the prevalence of obesity among children has slowly declined, but has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.
This data also shows significant regional and ethnic disparities in the prevalence of childhood obesity.
Obesity rates were highest among black children, both at reception age and in year 6, with rates at 16.2% and 33% respectively. Chinese children, meanwhile, had the lowest rates at 4.5% and 17.7%.
The areas of England which had the highest level of childhood obesity were the North East, West Midlands, and London at 26.6%, 26.2%, and 25.8%.
However, London also had the highest rate of reception-age children who were underweight.
The lowest levels of obesity in year six children were in the South West, South East and East of England at 19.8%, 20%, and 21.4% respectively.