22,000 children severely obese when they leave primary school

The number of 10 and 11-year-old children classed as severely obese - the most overweight scale - in the final year of primary school is nearly double that of those in reception, new analysis by the Local Government Association reveals today.

View allPublic health articles

The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, 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.

Despite budget reductions, councils are spending more on running effective prevention schemes to help children stay healthy, which is key to tackling the child obesity crisis and reducing future costs to hospital, health and social care services.

But this essential prevention work, including the ability of councils to provide weight management services for children and adults, is being hampered by a £600 million reduction in councils’ public health budgets by central government between 2015/16 and 2019/20.

The LGA is calling for reductions in public health grants to be reversed by the Government 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.”

Notes to editors

  1. Latest data for 2016/17 from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) is available here (click on “Overview” tab) and here.
  2. Severe obesity is BMI on or above the 99.6 percentile for a child’s age and sex.
  3. A person who is severely obese is at risk of developing a number of serious acute and chronic health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and cancer.
  4. Severe obesity can shorten a person’s life by 10 years, the same loss as caused by the effects of lifelong smoking.

  5. It’s estimated that obesity and being overweight contribute to at least one in every 13 deaths in Europe.https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/

  6. Childhood obesity has been described as one of the most serious public health challenges for the 21st century by the World Health Organisation. The UK is the most obese nation in Western Europe and the sixth most obese in the world, according to analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  7. NCMP data shows one in five 10 and 11-year-olds are obese and one in 10 four and five-year-olds are obese. If those who are overweight are included, the rates rise to a third and a fifth respectively.
  8. Since the responsibility of delivering public health transferred to councils in 2013, local authorities have spent more than £1 billion tackling child and adult obesity, and physical inactivity. Against a backdrop of reductions to the public health budget, councils report a 50 per cent increase in spend between 2013/14 and 2016/17 on childhood obesity, and a 60 per cent increase for childhood physical inactivity in the same period. 
  9. Examples of council schemes to tackle childhood obesity can be read here.