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Obesity gap between rich and poor children set to rise

60% of deprived boys set to be obese by 2020

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The difference in body weight between primary school boys in the wealthiest and poorest areas of England is set to widen significantly by 2020, according to figures released today by the Obesity Health Alliance.

The Alliance’s analysis, released to coincide with World Obesity Day today, used existing figures of the number of children aged 5-11 who are obese, overweight and a healthy weight, categorised by level of deprivation, and modelled future trends. The modelling was done by the UK Health Forum.

The data used were on childhood obesity prevalence from 2008 to 2014 taken from the Health Survey for England and projections were made up to the year 2020.

This showed that three in five (60%) of the most deprived boys aged 5-11 were predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020 (compared with 44% in 2014), in contrast with 16% of boys in the most affluent group in 2020 (compared with 23% in 2014).

In contrast, the most deprived girls did not show the same trend and were projected to have similar obese and overweight prevalence rates to their more affluent counterparts with an average of 1 in 5 girls predicted to be obese or overweight by 2020.

The Alliance said that eating or drinking too much sugar was a key reason for consuming extra calories and therefore a cause of obesity so it supported the government’s soft drinks industry levy.

It called on food manufacturers to comply with the government’s programme to reduce the sugar in food eaten often by children and wanted to see loopholes closed to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing online and on television.

Robin Ireland, chief executive at Health Equalities Group and member of the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “These stats also illustrate an obvious gender gap with boys, especially those from the most deprived areas, much more likely to be obese.

“Whilst it is difficult to comment on exactly why this happens, there could be a number of reasons including girls usually being more conscious about their physical appearance, and boys being more brand loyal and therefore susceptible to the billions of pounds spent on marketing to children through brand characters and sports stars.

“From a young age, children are developing a taste for high sugar, salt and fatty foods that is difficult to break once established and as a nation, we all have a responsibility to help shape children’s diets.”

Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Obesity blights a childhood and damages adult life, raising the risk of serious complications such as type two diabetes and breathing problems – conditions we are seeing much earlier in childhood.

“We need to make healthier food the easier, cheaper choice by introducing advertising restrictions before the 9pm watershed, and testing the impact taxation has on foods high in salt, sugar and fat.

“To complement this, we need to extend the National Child Measurement Programme to early childhood and be educating children from a young age on what constitutes as a nutritious meal so positive lifestyle choices are instilled early.”

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