The latest rise in the prevalence of obesity among primary school children is “no surprise”, because “vital” public health nursing roles are under threat, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
Data published yesterday by NHS Digital from the National Child Measurement Programme revealed an increase in obesity prevalence in primary schools in England.
“With these vital nursing roles under threat it is no surprise that this problem is yet to improve”
The prevalence of obesity has risen from 9.1% in 2014-15 to 9.3% in 2015-16 for children in reception (aged 4-5 years) and from 19.1% to 19.8% for those in year six (aged 10-11 years)
The data also shows that obesity prevalence was more than twice as high in year six, compared to reception.
In addition, it revealed that 34.2% of children in year six was either overweight or obese in 2015-16 and 22.1% was overweight or obese in reception year.
The National Child Measurement Programme was launched in 2005-06 and measures the height and weight of over one million children in England annually.
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It provides “robust data” on which reception and year six children are underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. There was a 95% participation rate among schools in 2015-16.
Regional data included in NHS Digital’s 2015-16 report on the programme also shows how obesity prevalence varies by local authority.
Richmond upon Thames had the lowest figure for reception at 5.1%, compared to 14.7% in Middlesbrough, which had the highest.
In 2015-16, Richmond upon Thames also had the lowest obesity prevalence in year six with 11% and Barking and Dagenham had the highest with 28.5%.
In addition, the 2015-16 report showed obesity prevalence for children in reception living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas – 12.5% versus 5.5%.
Meanwhile, in year six, 26% of children living in the most deprived areas were obese, compared to 11.7% in the least deprived areas.
The difference in obesity prevalence between children attending schools in the most and least deprived areas has also increased over time, noted NHS Digital’s report.
The difference for reception was 6.2 percentage points in 2015-16, compared to 4.6 in 2007-08, and the equivalent figures for year six were 12.4 in 2015-16 and 8.9 percentage points in 2007-08.
Obesity prevalence was higher for boys in both age groups, noted the report. In reception, 9.6% of boys and 9% of girls were classified as obese. In year six, it was 21.7% of boys and 17.9% of girls.
Paul Niblett, NHS Digital’s responsible statistician for the data, said: “This report is a valuable source of information for parents, policy makers and health professionals and these findings show where improvements to children’s health can be made.”
Fiona Smith, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “Childhood obesity has been a problem for some years now, and it is alarming that despite widespread awareness, rates continue to rise.
“The work of health visitors, school nurses and many other roles is aimed at encouraging healthy lifestyles, but with these vital nursing roles under threat it is no surprise that this problem is yet to improve,” she said, referring to council plans in some areas that will see changes and reductions in such roles.
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“As obesity rates continue to soar it has never been more urgent for the government to step in. The Childhood Obesity Plan includes some sensible steps, but it does not outline the dramatic action needed to tackle a national crisis,” said Ms Smith.
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She added: “The right strategy and the right staff are critical if we are to reverse this trend of childhood obesity – and its terrible consequences.”
Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “These latest statistics act as a stark reminder as to just how serious the UK’s obesity problem is. It is not an understatement to say we are entering a state of emergency.”