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Record high proportion of overweight and obese pupils leaving primary school

Published 03/11/2016

The National Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of over one million children in England every year
The National Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of over one million children in England every year

The proportion of overweight and obese children leaving primary school in England is now the highest on record.

Data from the National Child Measurement Programme shows that more than one in three (34.2%) children in year 6 (aged 10 to 11) were overweight or obese in 2015/16, up from 33.2% the previous year and 31.6% in 2006/07.

Meanwhile, more than one in five (22.1%) were either overweight or obese in reception year (aged four to five), up on 21.9% the previous year but under the 22.9% in 2006/07.

When it comes to obesity alone, 9.3% of children in reception were obese in 2015/16, up from 9.1% the year before, the NHS Digital data showed.

One in five (19.8%) of those in year 6 were also obese, up from 19.1% the year before.

The National Child Measurement Programme measures the height and weight of more than a million children in England every year.

A breakdown shows that 5.1% of reception children in Richmond upon Thames in south-west London were obese in 2015/16, but the figure was 14.7% in Middlesbrough, which had the highest proportion.

In 2015/16, Richmond upon Thames also had the lowest obesity prevalence in year 6, with 11%, while Barking and Dagenham had the highest with 28.5%.

Health campaigners reacted with dismay to the figures and called on the Government to tighten up its plans for tackling childhood obesity.

Documents suggest its childhood obesity plan was heavily watered down in the months before publication in August.

Earlier this week, Channel 4's Dispatches claimed that curbs on junk food advertising and restrictions on unhealthy product placement in supermarkets were among measures cut from a draft of strategy.

A first draft of the plan also contained a pledge to halve the number of overweight children by 2026. This, Dispatches said, was then changed to a pledge to "significantly reduce" the number of overweight children.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's director of prevention, said: "Our nation has hit a devastating record high for childhood obesity.

"The trend over the last decade is showing no signs of slowing down, and this worrying news is something that could have been prevented with more government action.

"But the Government still has a chance to save lives. It has already recognised the influence of junk food marketing on children by banning junk food advertising during children's programmes.

"It's time now to stop this influential marketing before 9pm."

Calculations by Cancer Research UK suggest the number of overweight or obese children leaving primary school (year 6) went from 178,868 in 2006/7 to 198,036 in 2015/16 - an increase of 19,168 over the last decade.

Professor Kevin Fenton, national director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: "It is deeply worrying that more children are leaving primary school overweight or obese than ever before, and levels are increasing.

"Parents can support children by swapping sugary and fatty foods and drinks for healthier alternatives and keeping an eye on portion sizes."

The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) - a coalition of more than 30 charities and groups including Action on Sugar, the British Heart Foundation, British Medical Association, Children's Food Trust, and Diabetes UK - said in a statement: "Another set of childhood obesity statistics and another bleak picture.

"Year upon year, we are faced with sobering figures that reveal an increasingly worrying trend - the number of obese and overweight children in the UK is not falling, and is in fact rising."

Shadow public health minister Sharon Hodgson said : "These findings should spur the Government to rethink their approach on childhood obesity and come clean about why they failed to do more to support the health of our nation's children when they published the childhood obesity plan in the summer."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Our plan to tackle child obesity is groundbreaking: no other developed country has done anything as ambitious.

"The Government has intentionally taken a careful and measured approach which will reduce obesity in the future - through initiatives like the soft drinks industry levy, cutting the amount of sugar consumed by young people.

"Alongside this, our restrictions on advertising and promotion are among the toughest in the world.

"These steps will make a real difference to help reverse a problem that has been decades in the making, but we have not ruled out further action if the right results are not seen."

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt should "resign and be replaced by someone who really cares" for the welfare of children and will "truly fight for them "

The NHS Digital data shows that obesity is more common among boys than girls, and black children compared with other ethnic groups.

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