ALMOST one in four children in Year 6 in England are obese as a result of the pandemic, researchers warn.
Some 22.7 per cent of 10 to 11-year-olds met the criteria in 2022/23, more than the pre-pandemic 21 per cent.
When obesity and overweight figures are taken together, 40.9 per cent of Year 6s from deprived areas are an unhealthy weight, the most up-to-date NHS figures show.
This is up from 35.2 per cent before the Covid pandemic.
Kids piled on the pounds during lockdowns when they were kept off school and could not play sports outdoors.
Some 32 per cent of Year 6 pupils in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham are deemed obese or severely obese.
Similar figures are seen in Knowsley (30.7), Sandwell (30.6), Stoke-on-Trent (30.2) and Wolverhampton (30.2).
For comparison, obesity rates among kids heading to senior school were as low as 10.4 per cent in Guildford and 13.2 per cent in Richmond upon Thames.
The findings come after new predictions suggest children’s weight gain in lockdowns is set to cost the economy almost £9billion.
Researchers from the National Institute for Health and Care Research who published the estimates said that up to 85 per cent of obese kids stay that way into adulthood.
They are more likely to go on to suffer type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, the study, published in PLOS, said.
Experts fear thousands of children who became obese during the pandemic could face “lifelong health consequences”.
It suggested the increase in obesity levels could set the UK economy back by £8.7billion, and cost the NHS £800million.
Professor Keith Godfrey, one of the study’s authors, said tackling childhood obesity was a “national priority”.
The Obesity Health Alliance told the Sun: “Reducing childhood obesity is fundamental to tackling the inequalities that undermine our society.”
“Some 60%- 85% of children with obesity remain obese in adulthood,”
Professor Mark Hanson
Boston, a town in Lincolnshire, was next on the list for being home to the most overweight children, with 29.9 per cent of kids living there considered obese.
It was was closely followed by Newham (29.7), Newcastle upon Tyne (29.2), Manchester (29.10) and Nottingham (29.10).
Meanwhile, Halton, in Cheshire, saw 28.7 per cent of its Year 6s classified as obese.
After that came Middlesbrough (28.5), Tower Hamlets (28.4), Southwark (28.3), Westminster (28.3) and Luton (28.2).
Coming out best out of the 20 worst-scoring areas for childhood obesity are Walsall (28.1), Lincoln (28), Liverpool (28) and Rotherham (28).
Professor Mark Hanson, from the University of Southampton, who co-authored the new study, said: “Once established, obesity has proven to be difficult to reverse.
“Some 60 per cent – 85 per cent of children with obesity remain obese in adulthood, increasing their risks of future ill-health.
“Our finding of a rapid return to pre-pandemic levels of overweight and obesity in the youngest children suggests new policies should target under-fives.
“This is likely to be an effective means of tackling the growing problem of childhood obesity.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said it was trying to tackle obesity across all socio-economic groups.
A spokesperson said: “We require labelling on pre-packed foods to set out a variety of information to aid shoppers, including a list of ingredients and nutritional data, and we have introduced legislation to restrict the placement of foods high in fat, sugar or salt in supermarkets.”
Is my child a healthy weight?
Children can become overweight when they get more energy from food and drink than they use through activity.
The NHS uses a BMI calculator to determine whether adults and children are of a health weight.
The calculator takes into account age and sex, as well as height and weight.
The NHS defines childhood obesity as having a BMI greater than or equal to the 95th centile.
Being overweight is having a BMI centile greater than or equal to the 85th centile.
For example, a girl on the 95th centile is heavier than 95 out of 100 other girls her age.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight or growth, contact a GP or school nurse.
Tips to help your child reach a healthier weight
MAKING changes to their diet and activity levels can help them reach a healthy weight.
Here are some ways you can work with your child to improve their weight:
- Get active every day
- Use rewards such as stickers or high fives when they reach their weight goals
- Try to give them a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, protein and dairy or dairy alternatives
- Set realistic targets and involve your child in deciding what changes they can make
- Encourage a healthy attitude to eating
- Help them get enough sleep