New National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) data show the number of obese children in reception year in England has risen for the second consecutive year – to 9.6% in the 2016 to 2017 school year, up from 9.3% in 2015 to 2016. For year six children, it has remained stable at 20%.
The latest data from the NCMP, overseen by Public Health England (PHE), also shows a “stubborn gap” between the richest and poorest. In the most deprived areas, 12.7% of children in reception year are obese, compared to 5.8% in the least deprived. Obesity in year six is 26.3% in the most deprived areas, compared to 11.4% in the least deprived.
Progress on childhood obesity is being monitored through the yearly NCMP data. However, with obesity rates increasing over many years, significant change will “take time”, PHE warned.
Indeed, the new report highlights the scale of the challenge facing the government – especially with what campaigners believe is a weak childhood obesity plan.
Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said the figures “are a reminder that addressing childhood obesity requires urgent action. There is no single solution to reverse what’s been decades in the making,” she added.
PHE is working with the food industry to reduce sugar and calories in food. The Soft Drinks Industry Levy has become law and will take effect from April 2018. Leading retailers and manufacturers have announced they are, or already have, lowered the amount of sugar in their products as a result of these programmes.
“Each year the childhood obesity statistics tell the same devastating story,” said the Obesity Health Alliance in a statement. The soft drinks levy and sugar reduction programme are positive steps, OHA added, but “immediate action” is needed to restrict junk food marketing aimed at children – both online and on TV – before the 9pm watershed.
“A real commitment to tackling obesity means also getting to grips with the environment in which our children grow up,” the alliance said.
OHA research published earlier this month showed that money spent on junk food advertising was 27.5 times the amount government put aside for its Change4Life healthy eating campaign last year.