Obesity rates in primary school children in England have seen significant increases during the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to newly released statistics.
The National Child Measurement Programme, which measures obesity prevalence among school-aged pupils in reception class and year 6, published its latest findings on Tuesday.
The new data show that obesity rates increased in both year groups by around 4.5 percentage points between 2019/20 and 2020/21, the highest rise since the programme began.
Among children in reception classes—aged 4 and 5—the obesity rates rose from 9.9 percent in 2019/20 to 14.4 percent in 2020/21.
Among pupils in their last year of primary school—aged 10 and 11—obesity prevalence increased from 21 percent in 2019/20 to 25.5 percent in 2020/21.
Since March 2020, England has undergone three national lockdowns and a wave of “tiered” regional lockdowns. Schools were shut for months on end, and people were ordered to stay at home with only limited time allowed outside to exercise.
During the pandemic, the proportion of children whose weight is healthy has dropped significantly.
Among year 6 pupils, 57.8 percent are now assessed to be a healthy weight, down from 63.4 percent in the preceding year.
Among reception children, 71.3 percent are classed as having a healthy weight, down from 76.1 percent the year previously.
The proportion of all children who are now either overweight or obese is 27.7 percent in reception and 40.9 percent in year 6.
Dr. Max Davie, officer for health improvement at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the sharp increase in child obesity is “alarming.”
Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, said, “This new data, which shows that two fifths of children aged 10–11 in England are living with overweight and obesity is hugely concerning, and it underlines why urgent action is needed to improve children’s health.”
On Monday, Amanda Pritchard, the head of the National Health Service in England, warned that many vulnerable young people have struggled with weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“Left unchecked, obesity can have other very serious consequences, ranging from diabetes to cancer,” she said while launching a pilot scheme that will see 15 new specialist clinics care for severely obese children.
Last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a strategy to tackle Britain’s “obesity time bomb.”
Central to the new plans are the banning of junk food advertising before the 9 p.m. watershed, the ending of “buy one, get one free” deals on unhealthy foods, and the listing of calorie contents on large restaurants’ menus.
PA contributed to this report.