A rise in the number of overweight children could be linked to poverty, says an expert at the University of Huddersfield.
A study which followed progress of almost 12,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 in the UK found a “stark increase” in overweight and obesity levels of children between the ages of seven and 11. At the age of seven, 25% of children were overweight or obese, but by age 11 this had risen to 35%.
The study, carried out by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, highlighted other factors related to overweight and obesity levels.
It found a higher incidence of overweight children with mothers whose highest educational attainment was GCSEs compared with mums educated to degree level or higher. Obesity levels were also lower among children who had been breast fed as babies.
Dr Kiara Lewis, head of health and wellbeing at the University of Huddersfield , said: “Whilst these correlations may exist, it is not clear if any of these are causal factors. The underlying causal factor may well be poverty.”
She said a recent report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) into tackling the childhood obesity crisis, found that at age five, children living in poverty were twice as likely to be obese than their less deprived peers. By age 11 this has widened to three times as likely.
Dr Lewis said the ‘eat less, exercise’ message did not take into account factors affecting children living in poverty.
“Families living in poverty will have more takeaway and fast food outlets, live in overcrowded and unsuitable housing and more likely to experience family breakdown, stress, mental health issues and financial problems,” she said.
The CSJ report said the Government should follow lessons from Amsterdam where a Healthy Weight Programme launched in 2013 had already reduced obesity rates by 12% and in poorest children by 18%.
Dr Lewis, said: “Following this example, the CSJ have made a number of recommendations to a whole systems approach, including all schools becoming ‘Heathy Zones’, including obesity rates in Ofsted reports, healthy areas around schools and making sure the Sport Premium money available to all primary schools does not focus on sporty children.
“The University of Huddersfield is involved in an Active Schools network across Kirklees, helping local schools to become more active and providing advice on the Sport Premium and how it can be spent to advantage those most at need.”