'Unprecedented' rise in child obesity during COVID lockdown
England recorded “unprecedented” increases in childhood obesity from 2020 to 2021, according to new analysis laying bare some of the longterm impacts of lockdown on children’s health.
According to NHS figures, some 14.4% of reception children and 25.5% of Year 6 children are now obese.
Analysis of the data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) shows the steepest increases ever recorded were seen in 2020/21 across all groups.
The report found that existing disparities in child obesity between ethnic groups and deprivation levels have got worse.
Obesity rose by 4.7 percentage point in Reception-age boys, and by 4.4 percentage points in Reception-age girls in the year 2020/21.
The number of obese Year 6 boys rose by 5.6 percentage points, compared to 3.3 percentage points among Year 6 girls.
Only small annual changes that have not exceeded 1.1 percentage points have previously been recorded since the start of the NCMP in 2006.
The data shows that disparities in obesity prevalence have increased, including among different ethnic groups.
The report found that the ethnic groups that previously had the highest obesity prevalence mostly experienced the largest increases.
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Poorer children more likely to be obese
The largest increases in obesity occurred in the most deprived areas of England, showing a widening gap between the richest and poorest children in the country.
The report states: "There is a strong correlation between weight status and deprivation, with children living in the more deprived areas experiencing a higher prevalence of obesity."
In 2020/21, the most deprived areas in England recorded the highest percentage of child obesity in both Reception children (20.3%) and Year 6 children (33.8%).
In the least deprived areas of England, 7.8% of Reception children are obese, and 14.3% of Year 6 children are obese.
The report found that girls living in the most deprived areas have consistently had the highest rates of obesity, and have now seen the largest increase in prevalence of both obesity and severe obesity.
Obesity prevalence among girls living in the most deprived areas has increased by 7.3 percentage points, whereas prevalence among girls in the least deprived areas increased by 1.8 percentage points.
In all areas, the prevalence of obesity on reception children stands lower than in Year 6 children.
Speaking at the NHS Providers annual conference earlier in the year, Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said: “The National Child Measurement Programme statistics provide extremely worrying reading – they show the prevalence of obesity in reception year has increased by almost 50% in just one year and more than one in four children are obese by the time they leave primary school.
“Many children who are living with obesity or are overweight suffer, or run the risk of, physical and mental illness including type 2 diabetes, asthma and depressions.
“These in turn can impact educational attainment and their future life chances, earning potential, happiness and of course longevity.”