Revealed – one third of Suffolk children leave primary school overweight or obese
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Almost one in three Suffolk children are finishing primary school obese or overweight, we can reveal.
New NHS Digital figures have exposed the extent of Suffolk’s childhood obesity crisis – with 17% of Year Six pupils classed as obese in 2017/18, of which 3% were deemed severely obese.
In addition, 14% of Year Six children were found to be overweight – meaning 31% of Suffolk’s youngsters were carrying too much weight when they left primary school.
The data shows that children often develop weight problems while at school, with just 9% of Suffolk’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 is exactly the same as five years ago – showing efforts to steer children away from junk food have fallen short of the mark.
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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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James Reeder, cabinet member for health at Suffolk County Council, said, while measures are being taken to tackle the problem, the council realises there is “still more work to be done”.
“Giving every child the best start in life is a key priority for Suffolk County Council and tackling childhood obesity is a vital part of achieving this goal,” he said.
“Tackling obesity cannot be solved by one individual or organisation, but instead by joining key stakeholders together and working in partnership across Suffolk to tackle the various risk factors associated with obesity.
“One factor for example is to improve access to affordable, healthier food for children and their families by creating healthy food and drink environments, both in and out of home. We have started to do this through programmes such as the Take Out, Eat Well scheme which encourages local takeaways to think about how food is prepared, portion sizes, and ingredients used, to promote healthier food and drink options to their customers.
“Public Health Suffolk are also spearheading a countywide campaign to encourage schools to adopt the Daily Mile, a simple and free scheme which gets children to be active for fifteen minutes every day through running or jogging, at their own pace, with their classmates, making them fitter, healthier, and more able to concentrate in the classroom. To date 41 schools and nurseries in Suffolk are delivering the Daily Mile to their pupils.
“We recognise there is still more work that needs to be done and it will take a sustained effort to bring about long-term change.”
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.