Published on 8 November 2016

A new NHS report has revealed that obesity rates among children of primary school age has risen steadily over the last year, with more than a third of children at risk of being overweight by the time they leave primary school.

Health experts have called for a "state of emergency" to deal with the crisis and look to prevent future health problems related to being overweight, like type 2 diabetes.

The figures, recently published in the National Child Measurement Programme, England - 2015/16 report by NHS Digital, revealed that rates of obesity had increased over the last year with more than a fifth of children overweight or obese by the time they start primary school - and more than a third by the time they reach year six.

Children should learn from a young age what foods make a healthy balanced diet

The report found that obesity prevalence was higher for boys than girls in both age groups and obesity prevalence for children living in the most deprived areas in both age groups was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas.

Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: "These latest statistics act as a stark reminder as to just how serious the UK’s obesity problem is. With over a fifth of reception children overweight or obese and a third of children in year six - a rise from last year’s figures, it is not an understatement to say we are entering a state of emergency."

"We cannot afford for the next generation of children to continue on this trajectory. Obesity is already costing the NHS over £6bn - a figure it can ill afford – thanks to the development of conditions like type 2 diabetes and asthma, all of which we are seeing much earlier. This of course has a knock-on effect on NHS resources."

"The government said that its Childhood Obesity Plan was the start of a five year strategy. We urge them to urgently start planning further actions to prevent childhood obesity. Actions must include support for parents to reach and maintain a healthy weight before, during and after pregnancy as we know healthy parents are more likely to raise healthy children. An extension to the National Child Measurement Programme to early childhood so we are in a position to respond to any concerns at the earliest opportunity. Restrictions on junk food advertising before 9pm to protect children from direct marketing and finally, we need to be educating children from a young age on what constitutes as a nutritious meal so positive lifestyle choices are instilled early. Only then can we expect to reduce obesity levels and sustain such a trend."

Rates of obesity was reported to have risen from 9.1% in 2014-15 to 9.3% in 2015-16 for children in reception class and from 19.1% to 19.8% for those in year six.

More than one in three children (34.2%) in year six was either overweight or obese in 2015-16. More than one in five children (22.1%) was overweight or obese in reception year.

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of over 1 million children in England annually and provides robust data on which reception and year 6 children are underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese.

Study author and statistician, Paul Niblett, said: "This report is a valuable source of information for parents, policy makers and health professionals and these findings show where improvements to children’s health can be made."

The report show how obesity rates among school children varied by area, with Richmond upon Thames having the lowest figure for reception age children - at 5.1%, compared to 14.7% in Middlesbrough, which had the highest.

In 2015-16, Richmond upon Thames also had the lowest obesity prevalence in year six with 11.0% and Barking and Dagenham had the highest with 28.5%.

Read the report on the NHS Digital website
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