Obesity in Children.
NHS child obesity figures show a third are overweight by year six.
Experts call for government action as new NHS figures show weight problems are worsening.
Almost a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school, and more than a third are unhealthily heavy by the time they leave, new NHS statistics reveal.
The data, based on measuring the height and weight of more than a million pupils in England, prompted calls for renewed government action to tackle what experts called the "childhood obesity crisis".
In 2009-10 around 9.8% of four- and five-year-olds were classed as obese when they arrived in reception class. But among 10- and 11-year-olds in year six, that had almost doubled to 18.7%, according to the latest annual figures from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) contained in a report from the NHS Information Centre.
Almost one in four reception pupils was either overweight or obese – 23.1% – while among year six children the figure was 33.4% – more than a third. While both figures are only slightly up on last year, when the equivalent figures were 22.8% and 32.6%, they underline the continuing rise in the number of young children with weight problems.
The figures contradict previous Department of Health claims that initiatives such as healthier school lunches, free fruit in classrooms and growing participation in PE were having an effect.
"Government assurances last year that childhood obesity levels were levelling off have been found to be sadly wanting," said Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesman for the National Obesity Forum.
"The Department of Health should also be ashamed that a quarter of our children arrive at primary school overweight or obese. Until its policies allow all UK four-year-olds to arrive at school with a healthy weight, obesity rates will continue to spiral," he added.
The NCMP measures the height and weight of children in reception class and year six in Primary Schools in England to establish how many pupils are classed as "underweight", "healthy weight", "overweight" and "obese". A record 91% of all eligible pupils – over one million in all – took part last year.
Paul Sacher, a paediatric dietician and co-founder of Mend, which provides healthy lifestyle programmes for children across the UK, said: "With nearly one in three children overweight or obese in the UK, more needs to be done to protect the health of our nation´s children and avoid the unnecessary short- and long-term financial burden of child obesity on the NHS at this critical time."
Dr Helen Walters of the UK Faculty of Public Health said the small year-on-year increases showed that the rise was being slowed, but added: "The situation will take decades to sort out and, as it stands, the picture remains bleak. Children all across the country need access to safe outdoor places to play sports in, opportunities for safe active travel such as cycling or walking to school, and access to a good diet through healthy school meals and availability of cheap fruit and vegetables."
Too many children still take packed lunches to school which contain too much fat, salt and sugar, said Michael Nelson of the School Food Trust, who urged pupils to switch to canteen lunches. Christine Haigh of the Children´s Food Campaign said ministers should legislate to protect children from junk food marketing instead of "cosying up to the food industry".
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