Children appear to be gaining weight as they pass through primary school, with the youngest much less likely to be obese than the oldest, according to latest figures.
Around 10% of younger primary school children were rated as obese last year, compared to 20% among older children, under the National Child Measurement Programme for England.
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The data for the 2014-15 school year was based on over a million valid measurements received for children in reception (aged 4-5) and year 6 (aged 10-11) attending state schools in England.
For those in their reception year, the prevalence of obese children was 9.1%, slightly lower than 2013-14 when it was 9.5% and 2006-07 when it was 9.9%.
Over a fifth (21.9%) of the children measured under the government programme were either overweight or obese. This was also slightly lower than in 2013-14 (22.5%) and 2006-07 (22.9%).
For pupils in year 6, the prevalence of obese children was 19.1%, which was similar to 2013-14 but higher than in 2006-07 when it was 17.5%.
Around a third (33.2%) of the children measured were either overweight or obese, which was lower than 2013-14 (33.5%) but higher than in 2006-07 (31.6%).
The figures, published in a report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, also revealed trends based on social background and location.
For example, obesity prevalence for children living in the most deprived areas was double that of those living in the least deprived areas.
Among reception year children living in the most deprived areas it was 12% compared with 5.7% among those living in the least deprived areas. In year 6, these figures were 25% and 11.5%, respectively.
Obesity prevalence also varied by local authority, with both the highest and lowest levels seen in London. For reception, it ranged from 4.2% in Richmond upon Thames to 13.6% in Newham.
In year 6 the range was from 10.5% in Richmond upon Thames, to 27.8% in Southwark.
The Infant and Toddler Forum called for policy makers to concentrate on preventative measures, noting that it was a concern that children were “becoming overweight at such a young age”.
The forum said there was a need to “act earlier” and identify those at risk “sooner” through more regular measurement in the earliest years, particularly in areas of deprivation.
“Education is paramount if we are to help families overcome the causes of obesity”
Judy More, forum member and paediatric dietitian, said education was “paramount” and that families with young children needed support to begin and sustain healthy habits.
“Simple, clear advice on how to encourage healthy habits for life,” she said. “For example, what foods to offer, what behaviours to encourage and how to manage snacks and mealtimes – portion size is critical in the fight against obesity, as the amount some children eat is determined by how much is on their plate.
“If we are going to halt the obesity epidemic, we need to act now and as early as possible in the life cycle. Research shows that mothers being overweight before conception and/or, during pregnancy increases the risk of her child becoming overweight,” said Ms More.
She added: “Prevention of overweight and obesity before the age of five is key to stopping the rise in childhood obesity. A universal recommendation to measure children annually between two years and five years would identify those young children who are at risk.