October 9, 2019 11:01:00 PM
Severe obesity among children leaving primary school is at a record high, while more four and five-year-olds are also obese, new figures show.
The latest NHS data from weighing and measuring children in schools shows that 4.4% of Year 6 children are severely obese, the highest rate on record and up on 4.2% in 2017/18.
The figure has increased by more than a third since 2006/7, when 3.2% of Year 6 pupils were severely obese.
Overall in Year 6 (which is children aged 10 and 11), 34.3% of pupils are overweight or obese (205,923 children), with 4.4% of these severely obese (26,158) and 20.2% obese (121,409).
The new data also shows that in Reception class (four and five-year-olds), 22.6% of children are overweight or obese (135,020 children), up on the 22.4% the year before.
Of these, 2.4% are severely obese (14,495 children) – the same as the previous year – and a further 9.7% are obese (57,869 children), up on the 9.5% in 2017/18.
In both Reception and Year 6, boys are more likely to be severely obese.
The difference is most staggering in Year 6, where 5.2% of boys are severely obese compared with 3.4% of girls.
The figures come as the outgoing Chief Medical Officer for England called for a ban on eating on public transport and an extension to the sugar tax to tackle childhood obesity.
Professor Dame Sally Davies used her final report to demand bolder action from ministers, including stricter regulation of food companies that seek to manipulate children.
She called for the successful tax on sugary drinks to be extended to milk drinks that contain added sugar, such as milkshakes, and for ministers to consider plain packaging for unhealthy food.
And she said all publicly-funded sporting venues and major sporting events must only advertise and sell low-calorie, low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar food and drink.
The new NHS data shows that the rate of childhood obesity in the most deprived areas is more than double that of the least deprived, and the gap continues to widen.
In the most deprived areas, 13.3% of children in Reception year are obese, compared with 5.9% in the least deprived.
Severe obesity is almost four times higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived areas in this year group.
Meanwhile, in Year 6, some 26.9% of pupils are overweight or obese in the most deprived areas, compared with 11.4% in the least deprived.
Last month, a report from Public Health England (PHE) said food firms are failing to cut sugar fast enough, with puddings and sweets actually getting more sugary and people consuming more sugar overall.
At present, food firms are in a voluntary agreement with the Government over cutting sugar and fat in foods.
There is a mandatory “sugar tax” on soft drinks, which is proving much more effective than the voluntary agreement. It has led to a 28.8% reduction in sugar per 100ml of drink.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to see a review of so-called “sin taxes” – including the sugar tax – to see how effective they are.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said of the latest data: “Obesity is a dangerous public health threat for our children, leading to a string of serious illnesses.
“These figures show that, as a country, we are clearly not on track to meet the Government’s sensible goal of halving childhood obesity.
“While the NHS will be there for patients, services and budgets will obviously be placed under more strain.
“So we also need combined action from parents, businesses and government to safeguard our children from this preventable harm.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: “Too many children remain overweight or obese, and severe obesity in Year 6 has reached a new high – putting children at risk of poor mental and physical health now and as they become adults.
“That’s why we are addressing the wider factors impacting our children’s weight – from working with industry to improve the food they eat, to helping local councils create healthier environments to live in. However, we know more action is needed.”
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said:”This problem has been decades in the making but we can turn this around.
“Our world-leading childhood obesity plan will help all families by making the healthiest choice the easiest choice, whether at home, at school, or at play.
“We are working with councils to tackle child obesity locally through new and ground-breaking programmes, cutting large amounts of sugar from food and soft drinks, and investing millions to give children opportunities to exercise in schools.”
Dame Sally’s report said 1.2 million children are now clinically obese, with some suffering Type 2 diabetes, asthma and musculoskeletal pain, as well as mental health problems, such as depression, she said.
As many as 120,000 cases of asthma in children may be caused by overweight or obesity, while as many as 650,000 children are thought to have fatty liver disease caused by being overweight.