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A third of Year 6 children are overweight


Nigel Hawkes

Times Online
February 22, 2008



Nearly one in four children aged four to five and almost a third of 10 to 11-year-olds in England are overweight or obese, the Government said yesterday.

The figures came from the National Child Measurement Programme, which weighed and measured about 80 per cent of children in their first and last years of primary school as part of a scheme to fight obesity.

Nationally, the figures show that in 2006-07, 22.9 per cent of children in the reception class were overweight or obese. By the time they were ready to leave primary school, the proportion had risen to 31.6 per cent.

In both age groups, boys were more likely than girls to be overweight or obese. Perhaps the most striking figure was the proportion of 10 to 11-year-old boys classified as obese - 19 per cent.

Broken down by region, London had the worst figures – 11.3 per cent in Year one and 20.8 per cent in Year six – while the southeast coast had the lowest for Year one (8.5 per cent), and the southwest the lowest for Year six (14.9 per cent).

Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister, said: “Whilst these figures come as no surprise, it is encouraging that 80 per cent of children in Years one and six have been weighed and measured.

“Knowing how many children are overweight or obese and spotting trends is key to ensuring that families, communities, public services, industry and Government take the right action in tackling obesity. Through measures such as providing the right information and support to parents to ensure a healthy diet and regular exercise for children, we hope to support families to lead healthier lives.”

Tam Fry, of the Child Growth Foundation, said that the increase in the proportion of overweight or obese children between reception and Year six was worrying.

“That shows that despite everything that is being done, supposedly, in school, we still have a 10 per cent increase in the first five years.

“And to have 22.9 per cent overweight or obese by the time they start school is disastrous. The Government really must start looking at preschool children to stop this happening.”

Kevin Brennan, the Children’s Minister, said that initiatives had already been taken, including banning junk food from vending machines in schools, introducing nutritional guidelines and making cookery compulsory in most schools from September.

He said that 86 per cent of children now enjoyed at least two hours of high quality PE and sport each week, and there were plans to increase this to five hours each week by 2011.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “It is a stark wake-up call when we see that over a quarter of our children are overweight before they even start secondary school.

“Worryingly, the scale of the problem may be worse than these figures suggest as the fear of being bullied as ‘fat’ may mean that some of the heaviest children could be in the 20 per cent of children who weren’t weighed.

“Action needs to be taken before children even start school, yet information about healthy living is not getting through to new parents as health visitor numbers decline and school nurses are overstretched.”

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Labour have been shamefully complacent about obesity. It’s typical of their short-term thinking that they still won’t prioritise public health and have allowed budgets for measures to help people stay healthy to be raided to offset NHS deficits. This is despite warnings that obesity could cost £50 billion a year by 2050.

“It’s taken the Government nearly four years to get this programme up and running. These statistics must lead to meaningful action.” Stuart Barber, of the British Heart Foundation, said that the figures were distressing but it was not too late to reverse the trend. “Young children are particularly susceptible to junk food advertising, which continually urges them to put their hearts and long-term health at risk.

“How can our children be expected to make informed food choices if healthy food messages are constantly drowned out by a tidal wave of junk food marketing? This was a major omission from the Government’s obesity strategy, and the Government must take action now by banning all junk food marketing to children.”

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