Obesity or overweight among children about to leave primary schools is rising, according to official figures from the school measurement programme. More than 1 million children were weighed and measured during the 2011/12 school year in the reception class and in year 6, the last year before they move to secondary school.
The figures show more boys are overweight or obese than girls and there is a marked social and economic divide. Obesity was most prevalent in the most deprived areas. It was also highest among black children and lowest for Chinese. Obesity was higher in urban areas than in rural areas for both age groups. The strategic health authority for the London area had the highest obesity prevalence for both reception and year 6. The lowest rates in year 6 were found in the south-central area and the lowest rates in reception classes were on the south-east coast.
Campaigners want to tackle unhealthy eating, including school lunches, and crackdown on pre-watershed advertising of junk food. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
The National Child Measurement Programme assesses the height and weight of primary children in England. The latest figures for 2010/11 include around a million pupils, about 93% of those eligible to take part, according to the report.
Commenting on the figures, the chief executive of the NHS Information Centre Tim Straughan said: “More than one million children in England are measured as part of the National Child Measurement Programme, which shows today that while the proportion of four-to-five year olds who are obese has fallen, the opposite has happened among 10 and 11-year-olds.
“This means that while fewer than one in 10 children in Reception Year are obese; for children in their final year of primary school this prevalence is nearly one in every five.”
The study also showed that obesity levels were highest in London and lowest in the southern home counties. Obesity was also more prevalent in deprived areas and urban environments.
Tracy Parker, heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said “It is a shame that even more of our children are finishing primary school obese. It has been shown obese children are more likely to become obese adults.
Obesity in adults is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Children’s food and lifestyle choices today could have long term consequences on their future health.
Paul Sacher is a paediatric dietitian at the organisation MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do it!), which provides weight management programmes for families. He called on the government to do more to protect the health of children.
He added: “With the health consequences of obesity including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer currently costing the NHS £5.1bn per year, the significant financial and human costs associated with obesity has never been clearer.”