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Childhood obesity

Report shows increased obesity prevalence in primary schools

One in three children (34.2 per cent) in year 6 was either overweight or obese in 2015-16, and more than one in five children (22.1 per cent) was overweight or obese in reception year.
Obesity prevalence was higher for boys in both age groups. In reception, 9.6 per cent of boys and 9.0 per cent of girls were classified as obese. In year 6, this was 21.7 per cent of boys and 17.9 per cent of girls respectively

The prevalence of obesity in England has risen from 9.1 per cent in 2014-15 to 9.3 per cent in 2015-16 for children in reception (2) and from 19.1 per cent to 19.8 per cent for those in year 6, according to a report from the National Child Measurement Programme (data source - NHS Digital). The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of over one million children in England annually and provides robust data on which reception and year 6 children are underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese.

The report found that more than one in three children (34.2 per cent) in year 6 was either overweight or obese in 2015-16, and more than one in five children (22.1 per cent) was overweight or obese in reception year. 

The 2015-16 report also showed:

  • Obesity prevalence for children in reception living in the most deprived areas (12.5 per cent) was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas (5.5 per cent). In year 6, 26.0 per cent of children living in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 11.7 per cent in the least deprived areas.
  • The difference in obesity prevalence between children attending schools in the most and least deprived areas has also increased over time. In 2015-16 the difference for reception was 6.2 percentage points, compared to 4.6 percentage points in 2007-087. The equivalent figures for year 6 were 12.4 in 2015-16 and 8.9 percentage points in 2007-08.
  • Obesity prevalence was higher for boys in both age groups. In reception, 9.6 per cent of boys and 9.0 per cent of girls were classified as obese. In year 6, this was 21.7 per cent of boys and 17.9 per cent of girls respectively.
  • Underweight prevalence was higher for boys in reception (1.2 per cent compared to 0.7 per cent for girls) but higher for girls in year 6 (1.5 per cent compared to 1.2 per cent for boys). The proportion of underweight children was also higher in year 6 (1.3 per cent) than in reception (1.0 per cent).

Figure 1:Proportion of children who are underweight, overweight or obese in reception and Year 6 (Source: NCMP 2015/16, table 1a, NHS Digital)

The proportion of children in the healthy weight category is not shown in figure 1 below, as it would lengthen the scale making the differences for the other categories harder to see. Please see table 1a of the report for the proportion of children in the healthy weight category

Obesity prevalence was highest for Black or Black British children in both school years. It was lowest for Chinese children in reception. The Asian or Asian British group had the highest prevalence of underweight children at 3.5% in both school years (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Proportion of children who are underweight or obese in reception and Year 6, based on ethnicity (Source: NCMP 2015/16, table 4, NHS Digital)

Obesity prevalence was highest in the North East, West Midlands and London, and was lowest in the East of England, South East and South West. London had the highest prevalence of underweight children in reception.

Figure 3: Proportion of children who are underweight or obese in reception and Year 6, based on region (Source: NCMP 2015/16, table 3b (region based on postcode of the child), NHS Digital)

As in previous years there was a strong relationship between deprivation and obesity in both age groups. Obesity prevalence ranged from 12.5% of children living in the most deprived areas to 5.5% in the least deprived areas. In general, underweight prevalence decreases as deprivation decreases.

Combined overweight and obesity prevalence ranged from 40.6% in the most deprived areas to 24.8% in the least deprived areas. In the least deprived areas obesity prevalence was lower than overweight prevalence. In year 6, the gap between obesity prevalence for the most and least deprived areas has increased over time. It was 12.4 percentage points in 2015/16 compared to 8.9 percentage points in 2007/08.

Regional data included in the 2015-16 report show how obesity prevalence varies by local authority. Richmond upon Thames had the lowest figure for reception at 5.1 per cent, compared to 14.7 per cent in Middlesbrough, which had the highest. In 2015-16, Richmond upon Thames also had the lowest obesity prevalence in year 6 with 11.0 per cent and Barking and Dagenham had the highest with 28.5 per cent.

To access the report, please click here

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