More than a third of English kids aged between 11 and 15 are obese, with this age group having the highest and fastest growth over the past 25 years.
In 1995 just under 30 percent of kids in this age group were fat but by 2019 this had risen to 38 percent, a new study shows.
But researchers say that disadvantaged English children living with single parents with no higher education are more likely to be overweight or obese.
Experts warned obesity rates also diverged by deprivation levels and were likely affected by the cost-of-living crisis – with children from less well-off backgrounds more likely to become overweight or obese.
Rates were also found to diverge in terms of ethnicity, with obesity initially being more prevalent in white children before being overtaken by non-white children.
The researchers behind the study, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, said their results highlighted the “urgent” need to address inequalities and reduce obesity in children.
England is projected to have the highest prevalence of obesity across all of Europe by the year 2030, with more than a third (35 percent) of adults living with obesity.
Over a third of children in England are currently overweight or obese, and in the year between 2019 and 2020, obesity was listed as a factor in over a million hospital admissions, with direct NHS costs estimated at more than £6 billion annually.
The researchers analyzed trends in childhood obesity patterns between 1995 and 2019 and explored socioeconomic disparities in prevalence by looking at data from the annual Health Survey for England (HSE) and comparing it with the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for primary school children.
They separated the 56,583 HSE children by age into three groups consisting of two to four-year-olds, five to ten-year-olds and 11 to 15-year-olds.
They also assessed household educational attainment up to degree level or equivalent, family structure, whether children were of white or non-white ethnicity and the residential area measure of multiple deprivation (IMD).
The researchers found that the overall prevalence of overweight or obese children rose from a quarter in 1995-6 (26 percent) to around a third (29 percent) in 2019 – peaking at 33 percent in 2003-4.
The largest and fastest rise in the prevalence of overweight or obese children was in 11 to 15-year-olds – particularly boys – among whom figures rose from 27.5 percent in 1995 to nearly half (42 percent) in 2019.
Among girls in this age bracket, it increased from just over 28 percent to 36 percent.
Analysis of the socioeconomic circumstances of the children revealed that between 2001 and 2019, rates of overweight and obese children diverged as to their level of deprivation.
Between 1997 and 2014, children in households with adults educated to degree level generally had lower obesity rates than those educated to lower levels or with no formal qualifications.
And while there was no difference in the prevalence of obese or overweight children between single and couple-parent families in 1995, by 2015–16, it was five percent higher for single-parent families compared with couple-parent families (34 percent and 29 percent respectively).
Ethnicity trends were additionally observed and were interestingly seen to reverse over time.
The prevalence of obese and overweight kids was initially higher in white children (26 pe cent vs 24.5 percent).
However, by 2015-16, this had risen to over a third (34.5 percent) in non-white children compared with 26 percent in white children.
The authors did admit to their study being limited to ‘binary’ classifications in terms of ethnicity, saying this restricted the in-depth analysis of varying childhood obesity trends across diverse ethnic groups.
Since around 2003, the inequalities gap appears to demonstrate a stable prevalence of overweight and obese children from more advantaged backgrounds, whilst showing an increasing prevalence amongst more disadvantaged children.
Comparing the HSE data with the NCMP data also showed similar diverging socioeconomic trends in the patterns of childhood obesity.
Although the study, from researchers at the University of Glasgow, did not investigate any causal factors of the trends and had several limitations, author Dr. Philip Broadbent said it showed it was inevitable that the current cost-of-living crisis would exacerbate the continuing and growing inequalities of obesity prevalence in children.
“This study demonstrated that stable overall trends in childhood overweight and obesity in England concealed deepening inequalities across deprivation, gender, family structure, ethnicity and parental education,” Dr. Broadbent said.
“These findings highlight the urgent need to prioritize understanding and address these inequalities as a public health imperative, given the serious health implications of childhood obesity.
“The current cost-of-living crisis threatens to further exacerbate these inequalities, impacting access to healthy foods, quality education, healthcare, safe environments and stable employment.
“Proactively tackling these social determinants is essential to curb the escalating impact of this crisis on childhood obesity and to narrow the health inequality gap.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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