Socioeconomic inequalities in children’s weight reversed in the UK between 1953 and 2015

Since the post-war period, socioeconomic inequalities in children’s weight have reversed in the UK – with disadvantaged children originally being more likely to be thinner than more advantaged children, but now typically being more likely to be overweight or obese, according to an observational study spanning 1953 to 2011 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Previously, studies of this kind have analysed trends in body mass index (BMI), but not height and weight separately, and this study is the first to disentangle the changes behind increasing BMI inequalities over time.

Between 1953 to 2015, the difference in children’s BMI levels between the most and the least disadvantaged children has expanded, however, the difference in children’s height has narrowed, and fewer disadvantaged children are now of short stature.

The authors say that these trends highlight the powerful influence that the obesogenic environment has had on socioeconomically disadvantaged children, and the failure of decades of previous policies to prevent obesity and related socioeconomic inequalities.

Responding to the study, Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

“For some time now the gap between rich and poor has been widening so this new paper doesn’t tell us anything new. However what it should do, is provide the catalyst for bold policies in order to address these differences – Government’s upcoming obesity strategy is the perfect opportunity to do this.

“Becoming overweight or obese is easy, especially in 21st century Britain. Portion sizes have creeped up and unhealthy food and drink is promoted everywhere – on the streets, on television, social media and on in shops – and it is at rock bottom prices. We need a culture that promotes healthy living. We strongly urge Government to go bold with their new obesity strategy and include a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed and placing restrictions on new fast food outlets opening near schools and colleges. Only then will we see a positive shift in this unnerving trend.”