Concerns are mounting that rising food prices could lead to families choosing to eat less healthily, increasing the problem of childhood obesity.

A nutritionist and a charity boss in Suffolk are among voices to express fears the cost-of-living crisis will result in less healthy food choices as people look for cheaper options at meal times.

The latest data from Suffolk County Council shows that in the school year 2020/21, 29.7% of reception year pupils were overweight or obese, compared with 21.6% the previous year, an 8% rise.

Of the 29.7% of overweight children, 4.5% were classed as "severely obese", compared with 1.9% the previous year.

Improving access to affordable, healthy food and safe environments where children can exercise are two of the key strategies for reducing obesity set out in the council’s Childhood Obesity Strategy and Action Plan.

Director of public health Stuart Keeble said: "The recent and forthcoming rises in cost-of-living expenses such as food, fuel and heating, and changes to national insurance payments, are likely to make it more difficult for some families to make healthy diet and food choices."

Nutritionist Nicola Seabrook, who works at Woodbridge Complementary Health Centre, agreed and said: “Food that provides a high level of nutrients is expensive.

“The future for families, who are struggling to manage the increase in the cost of living, is worrying.

“Children’s health is affected significantly by the foods they eat. A healthy nutrient intake is not only required for their physical growth and development but their academic progress and mental health as well.

“Parents on low incomes will have no choice but to feed their children cheap, processed, high-calorie food and this will inevitably lead to further obesity and diets with a lower mineral and vitamin content.”

Her concerns were shared by Alison Grant, family support manager at children’s charity Home Start in Suffolk, who said the rise in costs would make it "increasingly challenging" for families to provide healthy, balanced diets, although she didn’t want to assume that families would eat less healthily.

However, her charity’s family support coordinators were experienced at providing support for families and knew about resources such as pop-up shops, where people could fill a bag for £2.50.

Home Start also provides an online cooking group, where parents can join a weekly zoom session and share healthy, nutritional recipes and explore alternative ingredients on a budget.

Volunteers also work with families to provide help with planning, budgeting, shopping and preparing meals.

“It’s certainly an area they can cut back on and unhealthy choices could be considered the cheaper option,” she said.