Childhood obesity: an inequality issue

The government published Childhood Obesity: a plan for action this week, detailing how they will ‘reduce childhood obesity by supporting healthier choices’.

The stats on levels of obesity in children paint mixed but worrying picture. 9% of children in England are obese by the ages of 4-5 and levels of obesity stay high as they get older – 24% of adults in England now classed as obese and a further 36% as overweight.

The effect of obesity on children is described in sobering terms by Public Health England, who say that, ‘Obese children are more likely to be ill, be absent from school due to illness, experience health-related limitations and require more medical care than normal weight children. Overweight and obese children are also more likely to become obese adults, and have a higher risk of morbidity, disability and premature mortality in adulthood.’

But is obesity a problem that affects children equally? Or does where children live make a difference to their size? The government report recognises that ‘…the burden [of obesity] is falling hardest on those children from low-income backgrounds’, but where exactly is this burden falling?

Is obesity linked to deprivation?

Children in the most deprived areas of England are more than twice as likely to be obese. Among reception (age 4-5) children, 5.7% of those in the least deprived areas are obese compared with 12.0% of those in the most deprived areas.

By the time children in the most deprived areas reach year 6 (age 10-11) a quarter of them are obese, compared to 11.5% of children in the least deprived areas.

So in both age groups, children in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be obese. These proportions have changed little since 2010/11.
160819 Obesity chart 2
Which areas are most affected?

For both reception and year 6 children, above average obesity is concentrated in parts of London, Birmingham and the Black Country, Merseyside, Manchester, and the North East. Other areas with above average rates for both age groups are: Great Yarmouth, Stoke-on-Trent, Luton, Nottingham and Leicester. Areas with below average obesity rates for both ages tend to be in southern and relatively affluent areas.

Childhood obesity is on average 1.8% higher in urban areas than rural areas among reception children, and 5.1% higher in urban areas among Year 6.

What about the grownups?

As Public Health England have pointed out, overweight children grow up to be overweight adults. This graphic illustrates how this plays out in numbers throughout England.
160819 Obesity graphic 1
More statistics and analysis can be found in the Commons Library briefing paper Obesity Statistics

Picture Credit: Tape measure by bradhoc; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)