Child Obesity Continues to Worsen: What the Data Tells Us

New figures released last week from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) have revealed that child obesity is continuing to worsen and there is still a substantial deprivation gap.

You can visit our Children’s Right2Food Dashboard to explore some of the child overweight and obesity statistics.

Child overweight and obesity in Reception

The new NCMP data in the graph below shows that 23% of children in Reception (aged 4-5) are now overweight or obese. With more than 1 in 5 children starting school overweight or obese, it’s clear more needs to be done in the early years to help children have a nutritious start in life.

One way to do this is through the Healthy Start Scheme. This is a government programme that helps pre-school children from low-income families have healthier diets by providing weekly vouchers worth £3.10 that can be spent on milk, fruit and veg. These kinds of schemes make it easier for parents on low incomes to provide healthy food for their children and are essential to combat child obesity.

However, we know that currently, the scheme doesn’t reach a large number of children in poverty. You can see in the graph below that 953,000 children aged 0-3 and pregnant women live in poverty, but only 540,000 are eligible for the scheme, and even less actually receive it.

The value of the voucher has also not increased since 2009, and has not kept up with inflation:

The National Food Strategy and the Marcus Rashford Taskforce are calling for the value of the scheme to be increased to £4.25 (the amount the equivalent scheme in Scotland is worth), and for all those on Universal Credit to be eligible for the scheme. Over 1 million people have signed Rashford’s parliamentary petition, calling for Government to act on this recommendation. More than 50 public health directors, sector experts and healthcare professionals have written to Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock calling on Government to allocate additional funding to the Healthy Start scheme which supports low-income families. This could be a start towards improving these obesity rates.


Child overweight and obesity in year 6

The problem is even worse by the time children are in Year 6 (aged 10-11) with over 1 in 3 children overweight or obese.

Certain groups of children are disproportionately affected by overweight and obesity, and more needs to be done to address these inequalities. For example, we can see here that BAME groups are disproportionately affected:

We can also see the stark regional differences:

Food insecurity and poverty are closely related to obesity. By Year 6, overweight and obesity is over 50% higher in the most deprived decile compared with the least deprived:

Our Dashboard also explores the effect of food environments on what we eat through what we can afford and access. It illustrates how for many a healthy diet is simply unaffordable. Healthier food is three times more expensive than unhealthy foods. The poorest 20% of people would have to spend 39% of their disposable income to afford the Government recommended healthy diet, the Eatwell Guide. This contributes to children in the most deprived communities having higher obesity rates.

Ensuring that all children from low income families have access to a nutritious meal at school could also help address these problems. As part of the campaign, we are also calling for Free School Meals to be extended to all children from families on Universal Credit to ensure more children living in poverty can have at least one nutritious meal a day, and don’t have to be reliant on cheap, unhealthy food to fill them up.

Please show your support for the campaign and the three recommendations by the National Food Strategy by signing the Marcus Rashford parliamentary petition. (For more information on the recommendations please see here.) To explore more data and graphs like this around children’s food, visit the Children’s Right2Food Dashboard. The Dashboard brings together data from a range of sources to provide a comprehensive view of Children’s Food in the UK from obesity to children’s diets, the impact on their health, their food environments and the policies in place on children’s food.