Revealed – one third of Essex children leave primary school overweight or obese

Nearly a third of children in Suffolk leave primary school overweight or obese Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Nearly a third of children in Suffolk leave primary school overweight or obese Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Almost one in three Essex children are finishing primary school obese or overweight, we can reveal.

The data shows that children often develop weight problems while at school Picture: GETTY IMAGES/IST

The data shows that children often develop weight problems while at school Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Archant

New NHS Digital figures have exposed the extent of Essex’s childhood obesity crisis – with 18% of Year Six pupils classed as obese in 2017/18, of which 3.5% were deemed severely obese.

In addition, 14% of Year Six children were found to be overweight – meaning 32% of Essex’s youngsters are carrying too much weight when they finish primary school.

The data shows that children often develop weight problems while at school, with just 9% of Essex’s Reception pupils classed as obese in 2017/18 – a figure that pales in comparison with the proportion of Year Six children in the same bracket.

And despite school meals getting healthier, the proportion of obese 10 and 11-year-olds in Year Six has risen from 17% in 2013/14 – showing efforts to steer children away from junk food have fallen far short of the mark.

While many children gain weight while at school, the data suggests the underlying problems may actually begin at home – with pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds more than twice as likely to be obese than those from the wealthiest areas.

Who do the key players have to say?

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Adrian Coggins, head of commissioning for public health and wellbeing at Essex County Council, said his team is “committed to working on ways to combat obesity” in schools.

“Essex County Council is committed to working on ways to combat obesity and we continue to work closely with schools through the Healthy Schools Award to tackle the issue,” he said.

“There are some fantastic schemes in place, including The Daily Mile, where primary school children are encouraged to build up to running a mile every day, the Tuck in Programme, which encourages takeaway food establishments to use healthier cooking practices and the Be Food Smart app, which scans products’ bar codes to help parents make better and healthier everyday food choices.

“We are also trying different approaches to weight management, and ACE, our commissioned weight management provider is working in a new way with a range of delivery partners, including schools, leisure centres, councils for voluntary service, and family hubs. We’re doing this to try and reach more children and families, and help people sustain healthy weight behaviours.”

Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of leading health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, said “we can do something about this”.

She explained: “The ever increasing number of children living with obesity is a clear reflection of the unhealthy wider environment that pushes us towards sugary and fatty food and drinks.

“We need to start with reducing the number of junk food adverts children see before a 9pm watershed, restrictions on junk food promotions in supermarkets and the food industry stepping up efforts to reduce sugar and fat from everyday foods.”

Public health minister Steve Brine said: “Obesity is a problem that has been decades in the making – one that will take significant effort across government, schools, families and wider society to address.

“We cannot expect to see a reversal in trends overnight – but we have been clear that we are willing to do whatever it takes to keep children healthy and well in this country.

“We have already removed tonnes of sugar from children’s diets through the sugar tax, which has funded vital school sports and breakfast programmes, and this summer we announced the second chapter of our childhood obesity strategy with a series of bold plans to halve child obesity by 2030.”

How was the data calculated?

The figures are from the National Child Measurement Programme.

Each year officials measure the height and weight of more than one million children, in Reception and Year Six, to assess childhood obesity.

The Government works out obesity using the 1990 British growth reference chart, a large collection of statistics used to determine a child’s body mass index (BMI). It defines a child as obese if their BMI is in the chart’s top 5%, and overweight if they are in the top 15%.

Children’s BMI is measured differently to adults, and is calculated using age and gender as well as height and weight.

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