Stark rise in severely obese children in England

24 July 2018
Obeses boy with stethoscope

New figures from the UK show that the percentage of children aged 10 to 11 with severe obesity has reached the highest point since records began.

Analysis of the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) between 2006 to 2007 and 2016 to 2017 details trends in severe obesity for the first time.

The programme captures the height and weight of over one million children just starting school (aged 4 to 5 years) and then again in Year 6 (aged 10 to 11 years).

Ten years ago, 2.6 per cent of Year 6 girls and 3.7 per cent of Year 6 boys were severely obese. These figures have now risen to 3.3 and 4.8 per cent respectively.

Severe obesity is classified as a BMI on or above the 99.6th percentile for a child’s age and sex.

In New Zealand, latest figures show that the number of children classified as severely obese was 3.2% for boys and 2.6% for girls.

The English findings also show that stark health inequalities continue to widen. The prevalence of excess weight, obesity, overweight and severe obesity are higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived – this is happening at a faster rate in Year 6 than in the first year of school.

Other observations include:

  • An upward trend of excess weight, obesity and severe obesity in Year 6 children
  • A downward trend of excess weight, overweight, obesity and severe obesity in Year 1 boys
  • A downward trend of underweight in Year 1boys and girls, and Year 6 girls

The Department of Health and Social Care recently announced the second chapter of  its Childhood Obesity Plan to help halve childhood obesity by 2030.

Main actions include:

  • Mandatory calorie labelling on menus
  • Restrictions on price promotions on foods high in fat, salt or sugar.

These measures will go out for consultation later in 2018.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England says: “The rise in severe obesity and widening health inequalities highlight why bold measures are needed to tackle this threat to our children’s health.

“These trends are extremely worrying and have been decades in the making – reversing them will not happen overnight,” she says.

She adds that an unhealthy weight in childhood can result in bullying, stigma and low self-esteem.

“It is also likely to continue into adulthood, increasing the risk of preventable illnesses including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers,” she says.

Public Health England is working with the food industry to cut 20% of sugar from everyday products by 2020, and 20% of calories by 2024.