One in five children born in the UK at the beginning of the new century were obese by the age of 11, a new long-term study shows.
There is also a clear link between children’s weight at the end of primary school and their parents’ level of education, according to a long-term analysis of the lives of more than 13,000 children born between 2000 and 2002.
The study, which is part of an ongoing research project being conducted by the University of London's Institute of Education, will be published tomorrow.
It points out that the proportion of new-millennium children who were classified as obese rose from 13 per cent at age 7 to 20 per cent at age 11. And, while 25 per cent of seven-year-olds were obese or overweight, this had increased to 35 per cent by age 11.
Roxanne Connelly, who analysed the data, said: “The number of children who were an unhealthy weight was significantly greater at age 11 than in previous surveys.”
She added that only a small number of children who were overweight at age 7 had subsequently moved down to a lower weight. “A lot of the children who were overweight at age 7 were slowly becoming obese, so it could be a creeping problem,” she said.
The academics also found a clear link between children’s weight at age 11 and their parents’ level of education. Twenty-five per cent of children whose parents had no educational qualifications were identified as obese, and a further 14 per cent were overweight.
By comparison, 15 per cent of children with at least one university-educated parent were obese. The same proportion were overweight.
The study also shows that children with overweight mothers are more likely to be overweight themselves. No link was found between children’s weight and their social class.
Those children who were obese at age 11 were less likely than their peers to say that they were “completely happy” with the way they looked, the researchers said.
For girls, the link between weight and happiness was particularly pronounced. Girls who were not overweight were more likely to be completely happy with their lives as a whole than those who were obese. No such link was found among boys.
The children’s weight statuses were assigned using body mass index (BMI) scores, which measure the ratio between height and weight. These scores were designed to analyse demographic trends, rather than individual health. Children’s BMI classifications are particularly unreliable, as children’s weight-to-height ratios regularly change.
Dr Ann Hoskins, a director at Public Health England, said: “We are working with schools to promote whole-school approaches that help pupils lead healthier lives.”
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