Record number of children aged 10 and 11 ‘severely obese’
A record number of 10- and 11-year-olds in England are classed as “severely obese”, official figures show.
One in 25 children in year 6 of primary school are now so dangerously overweight that they are in that category, according to the latest annual findings of the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP).
Children classed as severely obese have a body mass index on or above the 99.6th percentile for their age and gender. The proportion of year 6 pupils in that category has risen by more than a third since 2006-07.
The figures, based on weighing and measuring more than a million schoolchildren, are the definitive measure of children’s weight in England.
The data shows that the proportion of reception pupils who are either overweight or obese has fallen slightly over the last year from 22.6% in 2016-17 to 22.4% last year. That equates to 136,586 children aged four or five.
But the percentage of year 6 pupils in that category has risen, albeit very slightly, over the same period from 34.2% to 34.3%. This means that 197,888 pupils aged 10 or 11 are carrying excess weight.
Across England one in 10 children (9.5%) are already classed as obese by the time they enter reception, while one in five (20.1%) of those in year 6 are in the same category.
More boys than girls are obese. In reception 9.9% of boys are obese comparedwith 9.1% of girls, while in year 6 the gap is wider, with 22.6% of boys and 18% of girls classed as obese.
There is also a widening “deprivation gap”, with obesity becoming even more of a health divide between children from richer and poorer families. Children in the most-deprived areas are twice as likely to be obese as those in the least-deprived places. In year 6, for example, 11.7% of pupils at schools in wealthier areas are obese – less than half that of the 26.8% of 10- and 11-year-olds at schools in poorer areas, NCMP data shows.
Kingston upon Thames in Surrey has the smallest proportion of obese children in reception (4.9%) while Knowsley in Merseyside has the largest (14.4%). Similarly, 11.4% of year 6 pupils in Richmond upon Thames, south-west London, are obese, but in Barking and Dagenham in east London the figure is 29.7%.
Children’s doctors said the figures were “totally unacceptable”, adding that more children and families should be able to attend weight management sessions.
Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, praised ministers for setting out plans to tackle childhood obesity – for example, by banning junk food advertisements on television before the 9pm watershed.
But he added: “As the figures have shown today, 20% of children are already obese by the time they leave primary school and this is totally unacceptable.
“Access [to] and funding of high-quality weight management services are urgently needed now if we are to ensure no child slips through the net and all children, no matter where they live, are given the same opportunity to good health.”
Public Health England, which oversees the NCMP, warned that children who were too heavy were at greater risk of suffering from poor self-esteem, bullying and stigma when they were young. They also stood a much greater chance of becoming adults who were overweight or obese, which increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
Steve Brine, the public health minister, said that reversing the very worrying trends in childhood obesity would take a long time.
“Obesity is a problem that has been decades in the making – one that will take significant effort across government, schools, families and wider society to address. We cannot expect to see a reversal in trends overnight. But we have been clear that we are willing to do whatever it takes to keep children healthy and well in this country,” Brine said.
He pointed to the fact that as a result of the tax on sugary drinks that began UK-wide in April sugar levels in many products had been cut and money from the levy was being used to fund school sport and breakfast clubs.
Theresa May has pledged to halve childhood obesity by 2030, though medical and public health bodies and charities have said government plans did not go far enough and relied too much on food manufacturers voluntarily reducing sugar levels.