Childhood Obesity… Where are we at?

In the news / Friday, July 20th, 2018

St Albans made the headlines recently for being the area which houses the lowest rates of overweight and obese children. Statistics show that 1 in 5 year 6 children falling into this category. Sadly, this isn’t the case in other areas of England such as Brent, West London, which was called out as being the worst affected area with 1 in 2 year 6 children being classified as being either overweight or obese. The difference between the two being ??  Level of Deprivation…

In England, 1 in 2 year 6 children are classified as being either overweight or obese in some areas of England, a stark statistic I hope you’ll agree.  Reception and Year 6 children are measured for height and weight (BMI) under the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) on an annual basis.  This allows local authorities and the government to monitor the trend of overweight and obesity overtime and also allows the comparison of the two age groups (ages 4-5 years in Reception and 10-11 years in Year 6) to see if the situation is getting better or worse as the children get older.

Each year results seem to worsen, with children in each age group getting bigger and the BMI gap between the two age groups getting worse.  In the 2014/15’s results below, the number of children with excess weight leaving Year 6 doubled vs those leaving reception and the latest view for 2017 is much the same with the reception picture looking marginally worse.


Those Children Living in Deprived areas are more likely to be overweight/ obese

Why is it that those children who grow up in more deprived areas are more likely to be overweight or obese?!  Is that fair? Absolutely not! Deprivation is measured through various factors such as income, education, employment, crime rates etc. Amongst both reception children (4-5 years) and Year 6 (10-11 years), comparing the most and least deprived areas, your child is twice as likely to be obese if coming from the most deprived area.  The chart below illustrates this.

PHE have identified that there is strong evidence linking availability of fast food with level of deprivation which is no doubt helping to fuel the obesity levels.  Who can resist the smell of deep fried chicken and fries on the walk home from school when it’s £2-3 a portion.  In response, PHE are calling for local authorities to take control and it’s encouraging to see that some areas are.  Gateshead in the North East of England is a great example of this.  In 2015 they introduced a health impact assessment with every application for a fast food outlet.  This has meant that since then no planning has been approved for take-aways.

In attempts to address the childhood obesity epidemic, last month PHE released a document “Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action Chapter 2”  which attempts to strengthen the points which were laid out in their initial strategy in 2017. Many of the points in chapter 2 are still “up for debate” and as a Nutritionist, I can’t help feeling that we are doing our children an injustice in not being more pro-active and pioneering in our thinking around childhood obesity.  I say, less debating, more doing!

Main points are summarised below, as I say, don’t get too excited as many of these will be up for consultation and debate before they are passed.

Sugar Reduction

  • 20% sugar reduction programme for industry (voluntary).  Push industry harder by mandating if the 20% challenge isn’t being met.  Could look to enforce a sugar levy here…
  • Soft Drinks Levy – continue pushing this in soft drinks space

Calorie Reduction

  • 20% calorie reduction programme for industry (voluntary)
  • Look at legislating calorie labelling for restaurants and cafe’s
  • Post Brexit review the Nutrition labelling on foods for clearer, more simple messaging.

Advertising and Promotions

  • Introduce a 9pm watershed on High Fat, Sugar, Salt (HFSS) foods
  • Look at revising the advertising code with Advertising Standards Agency (ASA)
  • Restrictions in the digital advertising/ Marketing space
  • Ban of price promotion deals such as BOGOF or 3 for 2
  • Ban junk food placement at check outs

Local Areas

  • Tailored programmes to meet the needs of the local area (as I’ve discussed above variance is huge but progress is being made)


  • Updating School Food Standards with an aim of reducing sugar consumption
  • Educate the catering staff on nutrition and revised food standards
  • Get kids more active – the Soft Drinks Levy is already meant to be paying for some initiatives.

Is this enough?  Most likely not, but it’s a start.  For us to kick obesity in it’s huge gut we need to attack from all angles involving industry, government, health care, education and more importantly US, the consumer!  You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink… each and everyone of us plays an active role in curbing and reversing the epidemic. Regardless of our background, education, salary and so on.  Living in deprived areas or not – we all have the power to make good food choices,  take the stairs instead of the lift or join a fitness club/team or run a free park 5k on a Saturday am with your family.  So, less thinking, more acting.. less debating more doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *