Childhood obesity in England skyrockets during pandemic

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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 child aged 10 and 11 in four in England are obese.

Health leaders are calling for a “relentless push” to improve children’s health, as official NHS data reveals for the first time how childhood obesity levels have skyrocketed during closures.

The National Childhood Measurement Program, which measures the prevalence of obesity among school-aged students in reception class and in 6th grade, found that obesity levels had increased by more than 4 points percentage in both age groups between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

Officials said the “significant” increase in prevalence in a single year was the largest increase since the program began 15 years ago.

Figures show that nearly one in seven children is already obese by the time they enter primary school in England. Among foster-age children, four- and five-year-olds, obesity rates fell from 9.9% in 2019-20 to 14.4% in 2020-2021.

By the age of 10 or 11, more than a quarter are obese, according to NHS Digital. In just 12 months, the rate went from 21% in 2019-20 to 25.5% in 2020-2021.

Dr Max Davie, head of health improvement at the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, said blockages “may have been a key factor” in increasing obesity rates. “This sharp increase in childhood obesity levels is alarming,” he said.

Caroline Cerny, Alliance for Obesity Health, said the numbers underscored “the need for a relentless effort to improve children’s health.”

“There are several aspects of the pandemic that are likely to have contributed to this increase in levels of childhood obesity,” she said. “But it is very clear from data showing increased sales of confectionery, cookies and fast food restaurants that junk food companies have taken the opportunity to keep their unhealthy products at the center of children’s minds. 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 at a healthy weight decreased between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

Overall, the proportion of overweight or obesity was 27.7% at intake and 40.9% in grade 6. This means that four in ten children leaving primary school are at increased risk of serious health problems.

Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, has warned of the potentially devastating consequences of weight gain during the pandemic.

“The new data, which shows that two-fifths of children aged 10 to 11 in England are overweight and obese are extremely worrying, and they highlight why urgent action is needed to improve children’s health,” said she declared. “Living with obesity dramatically increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, a disease known to have more severe and acute consequences in children and youth. “

Children living in poorer neighborhoods are twice as likely to be obese as those living in wealthier neighborhoods, the figures also revealed.

Among children of reception age, 20.3% in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods are obese against 7.8% in the least disadvantaged. In 6th grade, the proportion of obesity ranged from 33.8% among residents of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods to 14.3% among the least disadvantaged.

“We need to focus intensely on bridging the gap between the most and least disadvantaged to ensure that every child has an equal chance to grow up healthy,” Cerny said.

The NHS has launched a pilot program in which 15 new specialist clinics will care for severely obese children and their families.

“Left unchecked obesity can have other very serious consequences, ranging from diabetes to cancer,” said Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England. The program “aims to prevent children and young people from living their entire lives in poor health.”

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said the numbers “would likely put an end to any hope” that the government would 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 the past two years, we’ve had reports of children increasingly being kept at home due to Covid restrictions, endlessly munching on junk food in addition to the amount they regularly eat at meal times, and prevented from playing with friends to burn excess calories. “

Fry said he was concerned that the 15 childhood obesity clinics were “very sadly likely to be insufficient” to “cope with the number of people who will now need help.”

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