Last reviewed 18 November 2021

Childhood obesity has soared during the pandemic, according to the latest NHS data from the National Childhood Measurement Programme.

The figures show that almost one in seven children are already obese when they begin primary school in England. For the youngest children in Reception, aged four and five, the rates of obesity rose from 9.9% in 2019/20 to 14.4% in 2020/21. By the time they are aged 10 or 11, more than a quarter of primary children are obese.

Data from the programme, which measures obesity prevalence among school-aged pupils in reception class and Year 6, show that obesity rates increased in both year groups by around 4.5 percentage points between 2019/20 and 2020/21. This is the highest rise since the programme began 15 years ago.

Health experts are alarmed by the new figures as obesity can increase the likelihood of a child developing serious health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, liver conditions and early heart disease. Children who are severely obese can also develop difficulties such as breathing problems, sleep issues and mental health problems, which can dramatically impact their quality of life.

The figures also revealed that children living in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be obese than those living in the least deprived areas and evidence shows younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer.

The NHS has now launched a pilot scheme which will see 15 new specialist clinics support severely obese children and their families.

About a thousand children aged two to 18 will benefit from the services each year, which will offer diet plans, mental health treatment and coaching. They will have access to dieticians, psychologists, specialist nurses, social workers, youth workers and a children’s doctor.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England, said:

“The pandemic has shone a harsh light on obesity — with many vulnerable young people struggling with weight gain during the pandemic. Left unchecked, obesity can have other very serious consequences, ranging from diabetes to cancer.

“This early intervention scheme aims to prevent children and young people enduring a lifetime of ill-health.

“The NHS Long Term Plan committed to take more action to help children and young people with their physical and mental health and these new services are a landmark moment in efforts to help them lead longer, healthier and happier lives”.