The National Child Measurement Programme found obesity rates among primary aged children have increased by 4.5% in two years
The 2020-21 report by The National Child Measurement Programme 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.
Obesity – caused by an increase in energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars in diet and a decrease in physical activity – is a preventable disease. Its health risks can include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal diseases, and some cancers. It can also have negative impacts on mental health.
Obesity can also be influenced by an individual’s community, as it can affect the ability to make healthy choices. In this case, it is the parent’s responsibility to monitor their child’s dietary requirements and exercise.
The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of children in England annually, providing data on children who are underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese or severely obese between ages in reception and year 6.
The collection period for schools to measure their children for this publication run from September 2020 to July 2021.
This year in March, with disruptions of schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of data collected across the country was consequently much lower than usual.
Enabling a national estimate of children’s weight status, including obesity prevalence to be produced for 2020-21, local authorities were asked to use the rest of the academic year to collect child measurement data in schools.
National figures in this report are generally comparable to previous years due to statistical weighting applied to the data, ensuring the sample is representative of the population in previous years.
From 2006 to 2007, which is the earliest years for which comparable data is available for this age group, obesity rates stood at 9.9%. Among ages 10 and 11, obesity prevalence increased from 21.0% in 2019-2020 to 25.5% in 2020-2021. The earliest comparable figures for this age group are from 2009-2010 when obesity prevalence was 18.7%.
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 proportion of all children who were either overweight or obese was 27.7% in reception and 40.9% in year 6.
Other noteworthy demographics
Children living in the most economically deprived areas had obesity rates 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.
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 NCMP is overseen by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (formerly Public Health England) and analysed and reported by NHS Digital.