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New research highlights worrying trend in childhood obesity

Research has highlighted worrying trends in childhood obesity rates, with roughly four in ten 11–15-year-olds in England obese.

Research has highlighted worrying trends in childhood obesity rates, with roughly four in ten 11–15-year-olds in England obese.

One study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, reveals that the prevalence of childhood obesity among 11–15-year-olds has rocketed from 30% in 1995 to 38% in 2019.

Another study published this week has analysed obesity data since the pandemic in 2020. This research also shows worrying trends, with obesity rates rising sharply among 10 and 11-year-olds since the pandemic, while prevalence rates among other age groups have stabilised.

The authors of both studies are now calling for measures to tackle childhood obesity in school-aged children to ensure these trends do not continue.

Childhood obesity levels highest in boys aged 11–15

To analyse obesity rates over time, the authors drew on data from the annual Health Survey for England (HSE) and compared them with the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for primary school children.

In total, 56,583 HSE children were included in the analysis. Children were grouped by age (2–4; 5–10; and 11–15) and prevalence rates were then analysed from 1995 to 2019.

This showed that overall rates of childhood overweight and obesity rose from just under 26% in 1995/6 to just over 29% in 2019. However, the largest and fastest rise was among 11–15-year-olds, rising from 30% to 38%. Obesity is more prevalent in boys of this age group at 42%.

The analysis showed that rates of childhood obesity/overweight diverged by deprivation level. The figures indicate that from 2003 onwards, the inequalities gap has been driven by stable prevalence of overweight/obesity in more advantaged children and increasing prevalence among disadvantaged children.

The study’s authors are now warning that the cost-of-living crisis could exacerbate this problem and put disadvantaged children at increased risk. This is because low socioeconomic status can limit access to health foods, quality education, healthcare, safe environments and stable employment.

“Proactively tackling these social determinants is essential to curb the escalating impact of this crisis on childhood obesity and to narrow the health inequality gap,” the authors conclude.

Obesity interventions more successful when targeted at younger age groups

Findings from another study, published in PLoS ONE, suggest particular attention should be paid to children aged 10–11, as obesity rates among children of this age have not returned to pre–pandemic levels.

Indeed, the study found that overweight and obesity prevalence in children aged 10–11 has persisted post pandemic and is 4 percentage points higher than expected, representing almost 56,000 additional children.

The authors highlight that this increase was twice as high in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived, and they are now calling for new measures to tackle obesity in younger children where interventions are likely to be more successful.

They are calling for “a major shift” in policy and say targeting under-fives is likely to be an “effective means of tackling the growing population prevalence of overweight and obesity.”

“Effective prevention requires collaborative, co-ordinated, cross-sectoral interventions, but current Department of Health and Social Care policies to combat obesity in England are widely thought to be insufficient.

“The persistence of overweight and obesity in 10–11-year-olds and adults in our results highlight the importance of prevention at younger ages,” they conclude.

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