Childhood obesity continues to rise

New statistics released by NHS Digital show that the number of obese children in England continues to rise, a troubling indicator of the nation’s health as the numbers are considered a predictor of adult obesity.

The government’s National Child Measurement Programme 2016/17 reveals that almost a quarter of children in school reception classes were overweight or obese, while in year six (10-11 year-olds), more than one in three was overweight or obese.

The report goes on to show a strong correlation between deprivation and obesity. The number of obese children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of the least deprived areas and this difference in obesity prevalence is increasing over time.

In 2016/17 the difference for reception-age children was 6.0 per cent, compared to 4.5 per cent in 2006/7. The equivalent figure for year six children was 13.4 per cent in 2016/17 compared to 8.5 per cent in 2006/7.

Over the last decade there has also been a growing difference in the weights of both boys and girls in both age groups. Obesity prevalence was higher for boys in both age groups. In reception, 10.0 per cent of boys and 9.2 per cent of girls were classified as obese. In Year six, this was 21.8 per cent of boys and 18.1 per cent of girls respectively.

The report also noted a marked regional difference, with children in the South West of England faring best; some year six classes in London boroughs, the North East and West Midlands had up to 41 per cent of their children above weight.

There were even variants by local authority. For reception-age children this ranged from 4.8 per cent in Kingston-upon-Thames to 13.5 per cent in Wolverhampton, and in year six the range was from 11.3 per cent in Rutland to 29.2 per cent in Barking and Dagenham.

And the problem extends beyond England. A recent World Health Organisation report shows the number of overweight or obese infants and young children increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016.

As well as children’s increased screen time (both TVs and computers), the finger is pointed at lack of exercise. Shockingly, a child’s play radius – the distance a child travels from their home to play – has shrunk by 90 per cent in a single generation. A decrease in walking and an increase in transport by car, train or bus has also limited children’s opportunities to play.

Any parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt who is looking for ways to keep young people more active can visit the Change for Life website.

Recently updated, it now contains a huge range of fun games linked to well-known films. These vary from a Belle and the Beast-themed snowball fight (no snow necessary) to a Disney-themed Monster tennis. Many of these games work indoors too so are perfect for rainy days when the temptation is to curl up in front of a screen.

The same Change for Life website also offers recipes for healthier meals and some fun quizzes to see how much you know about exercise and food. In addition, the NHS Choices website has 10 suggestions for getting children or grandchildren more active, such as kite flying and walking to school. Finally, the National Trust website also offers ideas on getting the whole family active – from bracing walks to den building.

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield at freedigitalphotos.net