Significant increase in obesity in primary-aged children

Obesity rates in both reception-aged and year 6 schoolchildren increased by around 4.5 percentage points between 2019-20 and 2020-21 – the highest annual rise since the National Child Measurement Programme began.

The National Child Measurement Programme, England – 2020-21 report, published by NHS Digital, found obesity prevalence among four and five-year-olds in reception classes rose from 9.9% in 2019-20 to 14.4% in 2020-21.

In 2006-07 - the earliest year for which comparable data is available for this age group - obesity rates stood at 9.9%.

Among year 6 pupils, who are aged 10 and 11, obesity prevalence increased from 21.0% in 2019-20 to 25.5% in 2020-21. The earliest comparable figures for this age group are from 2009-10, when obesity prevalence was 18.7%.

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of children in England annually. The collection period for schools to measure their children for this publication would have run from September 2020 to July 2021. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted this. At the end of March 2021, when schools had reopened after being closed to most pupils since early January, local authorities were asked to use the remainder of the academic year to collect child measurement data in a sample of schools to enable a national estimate of children’s weight status, including obesity prevalence, to be produced for 2020-21.  

The volume of data collected across the country was much lower than usual and consequently this publication focuses on national level results. National figures in this report are broadly comparable to earlier years because statistical weighting has been applied to the data to ensure the sample is reflective of the population in previous years.

The proportion of children who were a healthy weight dropped between 2020-21 and 2019-20 – among reception children it fell to 71.3% from 76.1% and among year 6 pupils it fell to 57.8% from 63.4%.

The report also shows that in 2020-21, obesity prevalence among children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas. In reception-aged children, 20.3% in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 7.8% in the least deprived. In year 6 schoolchildren, the proportion who were obese ranged from 33.8% among those living in the most deprived areas to 14.3% in the least deprived.

The proportion of all children who were either overweight or obese was 27.7% in reception and 40.9% in year 6.
In both age groups, obesity prevalence was higher for boys than for girls. For reception-age children, 14.8% of boys were obese compared to 14.1% of girls. Among year 6 pupils, 29.2% of boys were obese compared to 21.7% of girls.
The proportion of underweight children was higher in year 6 (1.2%) than in reception (0.9%). There was little change in this year-on-year.


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