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Obesity Rates

Obesity in Children

NHS child obesity figures show a third are overweight by year six.

Experts call for government action as new NHS figures show weight problems are worsening.

Almost a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start primary school, and more than a third are unhealthily heavy by the time they leave, new NHS statistics reveal.

The data, based on measuring the height and weight of more than a million pupils in England, prompted calls for renewed government action to tackle what experts called the "childhood obesity crisis".

In 2009-10 around 9.8% of four- and five-year-olds were classed as obese when they arrived in reception class. But among 10- and 11-year-olds in year six, that had almost doubled to 18.7%, according to the latest annual figures from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) contained in a report from the NHS Information Centre.

Almost one in four reception pupils was either overweight or obese – 23.1% – while among year six children the figure was 33.4% – more than a third. While both figures are only slightly up on last year, when the equivalent figures were 22.8% and 32.6%, they underline the continuing rise in the number of young children with weight problems.

The figures contradict previous Department of Health claims that initiatives such as healthier school lunches, free fruit in classrooms and growing participation in PE were having an effect.

"Government assurances last year that childhood obesity levels were levelling off have been found to be sadly wanting," said Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and spokesman for the National Obesity Forum.

"The Department of Health should also be ashamed that a quarter of our children arrive at primary school overweight or obese. Until its policies allow all UK four-year-olds to arrive at school with a healthy weight, obesity rates will continue to spiral," he added.

The NCMP measures the height and weight of children in reception class and year six in Primary Schools in England to establish how many pupils are classed as "underweight", "healthy weight", "overweight" and "obese". A record 91% of all eligible pupils – over one million in all – took part last year.

Paul Sacher, a paediatric dietician and co-founder of Mend, which provides healthy lifestyle programmes for children across the UK, said: "With nearly one in three children overweight or obese in the UK, more needs to be done to protect the health of our nation´s children and avoid the unnecessary short- and long-term financial burden of child obesity on the NHS at this critical time."

Dr Helen Walters of the UK Faculty of Public Health said the small year-on-year increases showed that the rise was being slowed, but added: "The situation will take decades to sort out and, as it stands, the picture remains bleak. Children all across the country need access to safe outdoor places to play sports in, opportunities for safe active travel such as cycling or walking to school, and access to a good diet through healthy school meals and availability of cheap fruit and vegetables."

Too many children still take packed lunches to school which contain too much fat, salt and sugar, said Michael Nelson of the School Food Trust, who urged pupils to switch to canteen lunches. Christine Haigh of the Children´s Food Campaign said ministers should legislate to protect children from junk food marketing instead of "cosying up to the food industry".

What is Obesity?

Obesity occurs when somebody is carrying too much body fat for their height and sex.   A person is considered obese if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater. Morbid obesity is when somebody has a BMI exceeding 40. Sufferers will frequently suffer from breathlessness, excessive sweating and joint pain. Additional health worries can range from heart disease to breast cancer. Lack of exercise is the most common cause of obesity, but there are other causes as well, including some disorders of the thyroid gland. In most cases, the only treatment needed is a reduction in calories and increased exercise.

Today’s way of life is less physically active than it used to be.  People travel on buses and cars, rather than walking, and many people work in offices, where they are sitting still for most of the day. This means that the calories they eat are not getting burnt off as energy. Instead, the extra calories are stored as fat. Overtime, eating excess calories leads to weight gain. Without lifestyle changes to increase the amount of physical activity done on a daily basis, or reduce the amount of calories consumed, people can become obese.

·         NHS to spend in excess of £6 Billion by 2015 on Obese related illnesses.

·         Obesity rates up 40% from last year (2010 to 2011).

·         27 million people classed as being overweight.

·         Obesity in children is higher than ever before.

How common is obesity?

Obesity levels in England are increasing every year.  In 2009, almost a quarter of adults 22% of men and 24% of women aged 16 or over in England were classified as obese (BMI over 30). Just under a third of women, 32%, were overweight (a BMI of 25-30), and 42% of men.

Around three in ten boys and girls aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese which is very similar to the 2008 findings where one in six boys and one in seven girls in England were obese. The number of overweight children was also around one in seven.

There is also a significant burden on the NHS caused by obesity an estimated £4.2 billion per year and forecast to more than double by 2050 if we carry on as we are.

The Future

Obesity can cause a number of health problems, such as type 2 diabetes (a condition caused by too much glucose in the blood), and heart disease (when the hearts blood supply is blocked).

Being overweight or obese can also shorten life expectancy and in obese adults over 40 years of age, obesity can shorten life expectancy by as much as 6-7 years.

Obesity is treated by losing weight, which can be achieved through a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and increased exercise. 

What can we do about it?

We can start by introducing healthier projects into schools and community networks to highlight the benefits of eating a healthier diet and way of life through developing garden areas in which to grow fresh fruit and vegetables which can be accessed by all.

By doing this we will provide the life skills and knowledge to take forward and use for the rest of their lives. Without providing these types of facilities and knowledge, the children of today will become another statistic of tomorrow.

We need to protect the future of ourselves as well as our children and to take control of our own destiny and health issues, whilst also taking the strain off the NHS to be able to concentrate on other health issues.

At Dig It Projects we believe that we can help address these issues by developing growing areas and providing the necessary training and knowledge to combat current obesity rates.

Please contact us to see what we can do to improve your health innitiatives within your school or organisation.

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