CHILDREN ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE OBESE or overweight in areas of England where there is more childhood poverty, lower breastfeeding rates and where fewer adults undertake physical exercise.
According to a new report looking at Reception and Year 6 children, poorer access to places for children to engage in physical activities is also associated with more children being overweight or obese.
Much of the research informing obesity policy to date has focused on the choices of individuals. But in a comprehensive new analysis of local councils in England, the Nuffield Trust think tank shows the importance of external societal and environmental factors on weight outcomes which lie outside an individual’s control.
Key findings include:
- Local authorities with the highest percentage of children living in low-income families had, on average, 6.9 per cent more overweight or obese Year 6 children (10-and 11-year-olds) than those with the lowest percentage.
- Local authorities with the highest percentage of under-fives living in households in receipt of out-of-work benefits had, on average, 3.5 per cent more overweight or obese Reception children (four and five-year-olds) than those with the lowest percentage.
- Local authorities with the lowest breastfeeding rates had, on average, 1.9 per cent more overweight or obese four-and five-year-olds than those with the highest rates.
- Areas with the lowest percentage of adults who are active had, on average, 2.9 per cent more overweight or obese 10 and 11-year-olds than those with the highest percentage.
- Local authorities with the highest percentage of under-fives living in areas with poor access to passive green space had, on average, 1.8 per cent more overweight or obese four and 5-year-old children than those with the lowest percentage.
- For 10 and 11-year-olds, overweight and obesity levels were more likely to be higher in areas where a greater percentage of the population were from a minority ethnic background, reflecting the complex relationship between ethnicity, socioeconomic status and access to culturally appropriate services, including opportunities for exercise.
Commenting on the analysis, Nuffield Trust Senior Fellow, Dr Liz Fisher, said: “It’s disheartening to see that levels of overweight and obesity among children in England remain at harmfully elevated levels, despite countless policy initiatives aimed at improving the situation. We found that children from low-income families are particularly vulnerable to this problem, so it’s really important that we properly understand what’s behind the childhood obesity crisis.
“Over the past decade, there have been no improvements in levels of overweight and obesity in childhood. Approaches with more focus on wider social and economic factors are needed, at both a national and local level. With it widely reported that the obesity strategy intended to tackle this issue may be abandoned, child obesity disappearing from the government’s list of priorities poses a massive risk to young people’s health, now and in the future.”
The report’s authors argue that, as obese children today are developing health problems that once only affected adults, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk factors during childhood, tackling obesity at an early stage is now even more urgent. While previous studies have looked at how the area in which people live is linked to obesity levels based on samples of the population, this new research has used data covering the entire population of England.
* Read: Childhood obesity: is where you live important? here.
* Source: Nuffield Trust