Data from NHS Digital suggests a substantial rise in the number of obese children in England during the pandemic
In 2019-20, 10% of children were classed as being obese at the start of primary school, but in 2020-21 the figure was at over 14%.
Within the last year of primary school, it rose from 21% to over 25%. Rates were twice as high as they were in the poorest areas of the country.
Experts have said that poverty, national coronavirus lockdowns and a rise in mental health problems within the country have all played a role.
Once the proportion who are classed as overweight is taken into account, 28% of those in reception classes were carrying excess weight, and 41% of children in year six.
This increase that has been seen is in marked contrast to that of previous years, which had shown only very gradual increases.
This comes after deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam has said that the UK is now moving at “considerable pace” with its booster programme. The COVID booster vaccines rollout has been extended to all adults over the age of 40 from today, it has now been announced.
Obesity is defined differently for children than it is for adults: it’s whether, after adjusting for a person’s age, sex and height, your weight would put you in the top 5% back in the year 1990.
So it may be difficult to believe fully that 25% of children in year six are currently obese, compared to only 5% back then, especially when the chart above shows that the numbers have not been moving very much over the last decade.
On top of that, once you switch from the childhood definition of obesity to the adult one, the levels of obesity suddenly decrease. So the number of obese kids may actually be lower in truth than is estimated here.
But trends are more reliable, as is usually the case, since the survey has tried to measure the data in the same way each year.
The figures have been increasing gradually over the last decade, and the gap between the most deprived and those in better off areas across the nation has been broadening.
That’s why experts are warning that we should not dismiss these figures as just a blip in the data.
Dr Max Davie, of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the increase was “alarming”.
“While lockdown may have been a key factor, we mustn’t assume that this year’s results are an aberration since there may be other factors, including mental health difficulties, which will take time to address.”
He said poverty was also likely to be a crucial factor. “Every year we see the gap between the most and least deprived children widen. Therefore, any attempts to address this problem need to be focused on these groups and the causes for their increased vulnerability.”
This comes after the PM tore up the independent system for combating sleaze within parliament on Wednesday as he threw the government’s weight behind protecting a Tory MP who was found to have repeatedly breached lobbying rules.
Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, said she agreed poverty was playing a crucial role.
“We need to break the junk-food cycle to improve children’s health,” she added.
The data is drawn from a sample of children this year – only around one in 10 were weighed and measured.
Normally nearly every child takes part, but the closure of schools prevented that happening.
NHS Digital said the findings were representative of the general population.