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Child weight crisis in the UK

The UK child obesity crisis is showing few signs of abating after data revealed a “stark” increase in the numbers of children who are overweight. Information from a survey of 12,000 children highlighted how the increase is most marked in children between the ages of seven and 11.

Role for dieticians

While there was little change between 11 and 14 – possibly because children of this age, rather than their parents, are beginning to make more of their own decisions about what they eat – the study showed that at the age of seven, 25% of children in the UK were overweight, rising to 35% by the age of 11.

With campaigners calling for restrictions on junk food advertising, the data underlines the increased role those in dietetic jobs, as well as other allied health professionals and even those in community nursing jobs can play in schools and the wider community in helping parents deliver a better diet for the children.

Data drawn from Millennium study

The study by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) at the UCL Institute of Education analysed information from children born in 2000 and 2001 and participating in the Millennium Cohort Study, who have had their weight and height measured at the ages of three, five, seven, 11 and 14.

Overall, nearly 40% of young people in Northern Ireland are obese or overweight compared with 38% in Wales and 35% in Scotland and England.

A further breakdown showed that by the age of seven, 25.5% of the boys were overweight or obese, rising to 36.7% when they were 11. At the age of seven, 23.7% of girls were overweight, rising to 33.9% by the time they were 11.

With the girls, the proportion overweight had risen to 36.3% at 14, but the proportion of boys who were carrying excess pounds had fallen to 34.1%.

Link with education and affluence

The study further showed a link between weight and the education levels attained by mothers and affluence.

Nearly 40% of 14-year-olds whose mothers had no qualifications above GCSE level were overweight or obese, while the proportion was 26% among when mothers had a degree or higher qualifications.

Additionally, breast-fed children and parents who owned their own home were less likely to be overweight by the age of 14.

Children who are overweight or obese face an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes as they grow older.

Britain is regarded as the most obese nation in Western Europe, with 63% of UK adults overweight, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Measures to cut childhood obesity

Various measures have been suggested by health experts, dieticians and campaigners to cut childhood obesity. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Obesity Health Alliance both want a 9pm watershed on junk-food advertising, with additional measures such as statutory school-based health education and the impact of sugary soft drinks evaluated.

The UK government will introduce a tax on sugary drinks on April 1, while the independent think tank the Centre for Social Justice has suggested it follows the example of Amsterdam. It is the only European city to have lowered obesity rates in the past five years with a variety of school-based programmes.
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