Thousands of children face “serious” and even “devastating” consequences as a result of weight gain during the pandemic, experts warn, as “alarming” figures reveal that one in four 10- and 11-year-olds in England is obese.
Health leaders are calling for a “relentless push” to boost children’s health, as official NHS data uncovers for the first time how childhood obesity levels have skyrocketed during shutdowns.
The National Childhood Measurement Program, which measures the prevalence of obesity among school-age students in the reception class and in year 6, found that obesity levels skyrocketed in both age groups by more than 4 points percentage between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Officials said the “significant” increase in prevalence in a single year was the highest increase since the program began 15 years ago.
Figures show that almost one in seven children is already obese by the time they start primary school in England. Among foster-age children, ages four and five, obesity rates increased from 9.9% in 2019-20 to 14.4% in 2020-21.
By the time they are 10 or 11 years old, more than a quarter are obese, according to NHS Digital. In just 12 months, the rate has increased from 21% in 2019-20 to 25.5% in 2020-21.
Dr Max Davie, a health improvement officer at the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, said the lockdowns “may have been a key factor” in rising obesity rates. “This sharp rise in obesity levels in childhood is alarming,” he said.
Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance said the numbers highlight “the need for relentless drive to improve children’s health.”
“There are several aspects of the pandemic that have likely contributed to this rise in childhood obesity levels,” he said. “But it’s very clear from data showing increases in candy, cookie and fast food sales that junk food companies seized the opportunity to keep their unhealthy products at the center of children’s attention. We need to break the junk food cycle to improve children’s health. “
Boys had a higher prevalence of obesity than girls for both age groups, according to the figures. The proportion of children who were at a healthy weight decreased between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
In general, the proportion of overweight or obesity was 27.7% at the reception and 40.9% in the sixth year. This means that four out of 10 children who drop out of primary school are at increased risk of serious health problems.
Nikki Joule, Policy Manager for Diabetes UK, warned of the potentially devastating consequences as a result of weight gain during the pandemic.
“This new data, showing that two-fifths of 10-11 year olds in England are overweight and obese, is very concerning and underscores why urgent action is needed to improve children’s health,” he said. “Living with obesity significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that is known to have more serious and acute consequences in children and young people.”
Children who live in poorer areas are twice as likely to be obese as those who live in wealthier neighborhoods, the figures also revealed.
In foster-age children, 20.3% in the most disadvantaged areas are obese compared to 7.8% in the least disadvantaged. In sixth-year students, the proportion of obese people ranged from 33.8% among those living in the most disadvantaged areas to 14.3% among the least disadvantaged.
“We need an intense focus on closing the gap between the most and the least in need to ensure that all children have the same opportunity to grow up healthy,” said Cerny.
The NHS has launched a pilot scheme in which 15 new specialized clinics will serve severely obese children and their families.
“If left unchecked, obesity can have other very serious consequences, ranging from diabetes to cancer,” said Amanda Pritchard, executive director of NHS England. The plan “aims to prevent children and young people from living in poor health.”
Tam Fry, president of the National Obesity Forum, said the figures “would likely destroy any hope” that the government will succeed in its mission to halve childhood obesity in England by 2030.
“The numbers are staggering and even worse than the forum feared,” he said. “For two years we have had reports of children increasingly being kept at home due to Covid restrictions, eating endless junk food snacks in addition to the amount they regularly eat at meal times, and being prevented from playing with friends to burn the excess. calories “.
Fry said he feared the 15 childhood obesity clinics were “most likely insufficient” in scale to “cope with the numbers that will now need help.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism