A record number of 10- and 11-year-olds are severely obese and pupils in deprived areas of England are four times as likely to be severely overweight, according to official figures.
New data published today shows the rate of severe obesity among Year 6 students has risen by more than a third over the past 11 years to 4.2 per cent, its highest rate ever.
In Reception, 12.8 per cent of children in deprived areas were recorded as obese, compared to 5.7 per cent in the richest areas.
By Year 6, the difference had increased to 26.8 per cent compared to 11.7 per cent, according to the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), which tracks the height and weight of primary school children in England.
“In both age groups, severe obesity is four times higher in deprived areas,” Public Health England (PHE) said in a statement, warning that “the gap continues to widen”.
The data highlights the growing health crisis among young people in the UK, with more than a third of children in Year 6 – almost 200,000 pupils – classed as obese in the last academic year.
On Thursday, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh called for more investment in food education to ensure children are taught about healthy eating at an earlier age.
Children with excess weight are more likely to suffer from poor self-esteem, bullying and stigma in childhood.
They are also more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, according to PHE, increasing their risk of preventable illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
In a bid to tackle rising levels of childhood obesity, the government has imposed a levy on the soft drinks industry, known as the “sugar tax”.
“These continuing high rates of childhood obesity, combined with widening health inequalities, highlight why government is taking bold steps to tackle this crisis,” said Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE.
“This threat to our children’s health has been decades in the making – we’re moving in the right direction but reversing it will not happen overnight.”