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Health 'time-bomb' warning from severely obese children

22,000 children severely obese when leaving primary school

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A multi-billion pound ill-health “time-bomb” is being set with growing numbers of children leaving primary school severely obese, it has been claimed today.

In a new analysis released by the Local Government Association (LGA), the body which represents councils in England and Wales, it warned that the number of 10 and 11-year-old children classed as severely obese in the final year of primary school was nearly double that of those in reception year.

Severe obesity increases a person’s serious health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer and it is estimated that severe obesity can shorten a person’s life by 10 years.

Analysing the first data* of its kind, covering 2016-17 from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), published by Public Health England, the LGA found a total of 22,646 out of 556,452 (4.1%) of 10 and 11-year-old children in year six were classed as severely obese.

This was nearly twice that of the 14,787 out of 629,359 children (2.4%) of four and five-year-old children in reception year classed as severely obese, showing that children were gaining weight quickly as they progressed through school.

The data also revealed that severe obesity rates varied significantly by geographical area and were highest in children living in the most deprived towns and cities, and those from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups.

The LGA said the figures should serve as a “wake-up call” for action to tackle the obesity crisis which was costing the NHS more than £5bn a year.

Despite budget reductions, councils were spending more on running effective prevention schemes to help children stay healthy, said the LGA, which was essential to tackling the child obesity crisis and reducing future costs to hospital, health and social care services.

However, this prevention work, including the ability of councils to provide weight management services for children and adults, was being hampered by a £600m reduction in councils’ public health budgets by central government between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

The LGA was calling on the government to reverse the reductions in public health grants and for further reforms to tackle obesity.

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “These new figures on severely obese children, who are in the most critical overweight category, are a further worrying wake-up call for urgent joined-up action.

“The UK is already the most obese nation in western Europe, with one in three 10 and 11-year-olds and one in five four and five-year-olds classed as overweight or obese, respectively.

“Unless we tackle this obesity crisis, today’s obese children will become tomorrow’s obese adults whose years of healthy life will be shortened by a whole host of health problems including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our childhood obesity plan is among the most comprehensive in the world – our sugar tax is funding school sports programmes and nutritious breakfasts for the poorest children, and we're investing in further research into the links between obesity and inequality.

“However, we have always been very clear that this is the not the final word on obesity, and we have not ruled out further action if the right results are not seen.”

*The January 2018 National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) Local Authority Profile update. Published by Public Health England, January 2018.

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