A call to urgent action has been made by the Local Government Association following the release of new figures from Public Health England showing that the number of children classed as severely overweight rose from 15,000 in reception-age children to 22,000 by the time they leave primary school.
The LGA is warning that severe child obesity rates, which have been published for the first time, are contributing to a multi-billion pound ill-health time bomb.
Figures show that more than 22,000 children aged 10 and 11 in Year 6 are classed as severely obese.
For most adults, a BMI of 40 or above means a person is severely obese – at least 60 per cent higher than the upper healthy weight BMI limit of 24.9.
Severe obesity puts people at serious health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer - obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer. Severe obesity can shorten a person’s life by 10 years – an equivalent loss to the effects of lifelong smoking.
The first data of its kind for 2016/17, obtained by the LGA and supplied by the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), reveals:
- A total of 22,646 out of 556,452 (4.1 per cent) of 10 and 11 year-old children in Year 6 are classed as severely obese;
- This is nearly twice that of the 14,787 out of 629,359 children (2.35 per cent) of four and five year-old children in Reception classed as severely obese, showing children are gaining weight at a drastic rate as they go through schools.
- Severe obesity rates vary significantly by area and are highest in children living in the most-deprived towns and cities, and those from BME groups, suggesting a need for the development and evaluation of more targeted interventions.
The LGA said that the figures should serve as a “wake-up call” for concerted action to tackle the obesity crisis which is costing the NHS more than £5 billion a year and is calling for a reversal in reductions in Government public health grants and for further reforms to tackle childhood obesity. This includes councils having a say in how and where the soft drinks levy is spent, better labelling on food and drink products, and for councils to be given powers to ban junk food advertising near schools.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “These new figures on severely obese children, who are in the most critical overweight category, are a further worrying wake-up call for urgent joined-up action.
“The UK is already the most obese nation in western Europe, with one in three 10 and 11-year-olds and one in five four and five-year-olds classed as overweight or obese, respectively.
“Unless we tackle this obesity crisis, today’s obese children will become tomorrow’s obese adults whose years of healthy life will be shortened by a whole host of health problems including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
“Cuts to councils’ public health grants by government are having a significant impact on the many prevention and early intervention services carried out by councils to combat child obesity. This short-sighted approach risks causing NHS costs to snowball due to the ill health consequences of obesity in our younger generation.
“Following the introduction of the sugar tax, we urge government to publish more details of its obesity strategy and to recognise councils’ key prevention role in tackling one of the greatest public health challenges this nation faces.”