RCPCH responds to latest childhood obesity figures for England, 2022/23

NHS Digital has published official statistics for the National Child Measurement Programme, England, 2022/23 School Year.
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This year’s data shows:
  • The prevalence of obesity in Reception children decreased from 10.1% in 2021/22 to 9.2% in 2022/23. 
  • The prevalence of obesity in Year 6 children decreased from 23.4% in 2021/22 to 22.7% in 2022/23, which is still higher than pre-pandemic levels. 
  • For children living in the most deprived areas, obesity prevalence was twice as high compared with those living in the least deprived areas.
    • For Reception children living in the most deprived areas the prevalence of obesity was 12.4%, compared with 5.8% of those living in the least deprived areas.
    • For children in Year 6 living in the most deprived areas, the prevalence of obesity was 30.2%, compared with 13.1% of those living in the least deprived areas.
  • There is a small but notable rise in underweight children, accounting for 1.2% of Reception children and 1.6% of Year 6 children. 

RCPCH VP for Policy, Dr Mike McKean, said: 

It is unacceptable that children living in deprived areas are twice as likely to be overweight than those in more affluent areas. Today’s data shows that 2 in 5 children are leaving primary school overweight and are subsequently at a higher risk of chronic illnesses, mental health issues and even a shorter life span. To have these children at such a disadvantage before even starting secondary school is a national disgrace.

I’m also deeply disturbed to see a small, but notable rise in children starting secondary school underweight. This is a horrifying, yet maybe not all too surprising development. After all, food insecurity is a regular occurrence for low-income households in the UK, with one in four households with children affected. Food banks are overwhelmed with the level of demand and teachers regularly tell us that they see children coming into school hungry.

These two trends are a product of the same issue, poverty. Poverty and deprivation are robbing our children of a healthy adulthood before they even start school. We desperately need to get a handle on these rampant health inequalities. There’s so much work left to do, but let’s start by expanding free school meals, increasing financial support for families bearing the brunt of cost-of-living, implementing the long-awaited junk food marketing watershed ban and introducing mandatory guidelines on the amount of sugar and salt in baby foods.

Meaningful progress for child health will only ever be won if it is found across all demographics, not just the richest.