Local authority leaders are calling on the Government to do more to help councils tackle childhood obesity as the NHS warns of a ‘significant increase’ in obesity rates among primary-aged children.
The National Child Measurement Programme, England – 2020-21 report, published yesterday by NHS Digital, found obesity prevalence among four- and five-year-olds in reception classes rose from 9.9% in 2019-20 to 14.4% in 2020-21.
This increase of around 4.5 percentage points represents the highest annual rise since the National Child Measurement Programme was launched in the 2005-06 academic year.
Among year 6 pupils, who are aged 10 and 11, obesity prevalence increased from 21.0% in 2019-20 to 25.5% in 2020-21.
Obesity prevalence among children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas, according to NHS Digital’s findings.
In reception-aged children, 20.3% in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 7.8% in the least deprived. In year 6 schoolchildren, the proportion who were obese ranged from 33.8% among those living in the most deprived areas to 14.3% in the least deprived.
Responding to what he described as ‘worrying figures’, Cllr David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said that childhood obesity was ‘one of the greatest public health challenges we face’ and urged the Government to help councils tackle it.
‘Councils are doing all they can to support children and families to live healthy lives and reduce pressure on other public services, from health visitors supporting new parents to weight management services and subsidised leisure facilities, but more needs to be done, especially to reduce the gap between the most and least deprived,’ he said.
‘New powers and funding for councils are needed to build on this, including tackling the clustering of existing takeaways and restricting junk food advertising near schools.
‘Money raised from the soft drinks industry levy should also be reinvested in other council-run programmes, including exercise referral schemes and offering free or reduced-cost sport.
‘Investment in councils’ public health services now will reap benefits for everyone longer-term, including for the NHS as we look to build back better from COVID-19 and level up the future health chances of the next generation.’