Childhood obesity

Public Health England posts sobering childhood obesity data

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Some overweight children consume 500 excess calories daily, PHE has claimed
Some overweight children consume 500 excess calories daily, PHE has claimed
The latest childhood obesity data is ‘a stark reminder’ that addressing the issue is ‘everyone’s problem’, according to Public Health England (PHE).

The figures, which come from the national child measurement programme overseen by PHE, indicate that severe obesity among Year Six children (ten and 11-year-olds) has grown by more than a third since 2006–2007. A total of 34.3% of these children fall into this category.

The proportion of overweight and obese children in Reception Year (aged four to five) has remained stable, with more than one in five in this group.

The figures also clearly show that more than double the amount of children from the least deprived areas are classified as obese in the most deprived areas. More than a quarter of Year Six children from the most deprived areas are obese, according to the statistics.

500 excess calories

Some overweight children consume 500 excess calories daily, PHE claimed.

Trade bodies, retailers, manufacturers, out-of-home sector businesses and non-governmental public health organisations met with PHE on Tuesday and Wednesday this week to hear the Government’s initial calorie reduction proposals.

The out of home sector, including quick-service restaurants, coffee shops and pubs, had been much better represented than in previous forums, PHE reported.

“It was encouraging to see many companies in the room, especially with the noticeable increase in engagement from the out of home sector,”​ said PHE chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone.

“We’ve heard initial responses from a range of businesses and NGOs. Over the next few months, we expect further feedback to inform the development of the work on these categories, and PHE’s door remains open for more discussions.”

Food deserts

Meanwhile, a report published today by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) updated previous studies suggesting pockets of the UK population lived in ‘food deserts’, where access to affordable nearby highly nutritious foods was poor.

The ‘What are the barriers to eating healthily in the UK’ report​ – written by SMF chief economist Scott Corfe – includes results of an Opinium survey of 2,005 adults from 23–25 May this year. When asked about the food products they found most unaffordable, households most frequently cited fresh products, particularly fresh meat (44%) and fish (35%). A total of 17% claimed fresh fruit was most unaffordable, while 11% put fresh vegetables in that camp.

In contrast, just 5% of households thought snacks such as crisps and chocolate bars were most unaffordable, and only 4% thought soft drinks were.

SMF analysis suggested 8% of deprived areas in England and Wales were “food deserts”​ and that 10.2 million individuals in Great Britain lived in these deserts, including 1.2 million in deprived areas.

PHE’s calorie reduction programme​ runs alongside its sugar reduction scheme, although it said no products were covered by both. The two programmes, plus the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, would account for half of children’s overall calorie intakes, it said.

‘Next big challenge’

PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “Excess calories is the next big challenge for the food industry to improve the food we all consume.”

In May, PHE published its report on progress​ towards the first year 5% sugar reduction ambition, response to which was mixed from the food industry​. It showed an overall 2% sugar reduction.

However, the out of home sector, plus categories such as puddings suppliers, have been encouraged to increase their efforts.

As with the sugar reduction programme, PHE said it would closely and transparently monitor the calorie reduction programme and report to government on progress.

PHE aims to publish guidance in spring 2019 on how the food industry could achieve the target it announced in March to​ cut 20% of calories across 13 categories by 2024.

PHE continues to educate consumers about calories through means such as its Change4Life campaign, asking parents to switch to healthier snacks. Its One You campaign also encourages adults to aim to consume 400 when buying breakfast, 400 for lunch and 600 for dinner when on the go.

Look out for Food Manufacture​’s Children’s Health feature, which will appear in the November issue of the monthly magazine​.

Related topics Confectionery Obesity

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