In October 2016, NHS Digital released the latest set of figures from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP). Another set of childhood obesity statistics and another bleak picture. Year on year, we are faced with sobering figures that reveal an increasingly worrying trend: the number of obese and overweight children in the UK is not falling and is, in fact, rising.
Overall, 9.3% of four and five-year-olds in primary reception class in England in 2015–16 were classed as obese, up from 9.1% the previous year, according to the NCMP data.
The number of obese 10 and 11-year-olds in their last primary school year also rose from 19.1% to 19.8% last year — nearly one in five.
Not only is the overall picture a concern, but the fact that those children from the most deprived backgrounds are significantly more likely to be overweight highlights the growing impact of health inequalities. Recent figures from the Obesity Health Alliance show that 60% of the most deprived boys aged five to 11 are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020, compared with about 16% of boys in the most affluent group.
These poor health outcomes mean we are failing our children, and future generations, if this trend continues.
The Obesity Health Alliance is a coalition of over 35 health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups working together to tackle obesity. We are calling for immediate action on three fronts. First, the government’s planned soft drinks levy must be passed without dilution next year. Second, government must act without delay to introduce restrictions on junk food marketing at children — both online and on TV before the 9pm watershed. And third, there should be ambitious targets for sugar reduction through Public Health England’s voluntary sugar reduction programme — with widespread engagement and take-up by the food industry.
These figures provide yet another wake-up call for all those intent on stemming the obesity epidemic. The alarm bells are ringing and there is no time to hit the snooze button.
Obesity Health Alliance Steering Group member
Special adviser on obesity to the Royal College of Physicians