More than 20,000 children are severely obese when they are about to leave primary school, new figures show.
The number of 10- and 11-year-olds in year six classed as severely obese is almost double that of the four- and five-year-olds in reception year, analysis from the Local Government Association (LGA) has found.
The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has warned the high child obesity rates are contributing to a “multi-billion pound ill-health time bomb”.
It said the figures should serve as a “worrying wake-up call” for concerted action to tackle the obesity crisis, which is costing the NHS more than £5bn every year.
Severe obesity rates are highest in children living in the most-deprived towns and cities, and those from black and minority ethnic groups, which the LGA suggested shows a need for more targeted interventions.
The data for 2016/17, supplied by the National Child Measurement Programme, shows 22,646 out of 556,452 (4.1 per cent) 10- and 11-year-olds are classed as severely obese.
This is nearly twice that of the 14,787 out of 629,359 (2.35 per cent) four- and five-year-old children in reception in the same BMI category.
For most adults, a BMI of 40 or above means a person is severely obese – at least 60 per cent higher than the upper healthy weight BMI limit of 24.9.
Severe obesity puts people at serious risk of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. It can also shorten a person’s life by 10 years.
The LGA says prevention work, including the ability of councils to provide weight management services for children and adults, is being hampered by a £600m reduction in councils’ public health budgets by central government between 2015/16 and 2019/20.
Councils are calling for reductions in public health grants to be reversed and for further reforms to tackle childhood obesity.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “These new figures on severely obese children, who are in the most critical overweight category, are a further worrying wake-up call for urgent joined-up action.
“The UK is already the most obese nation in Western Europe, with one in three 10- and 11-year-olds and one in five four- and five-year-olds classed as overweight or obese, respectively.
“Unless we tackle this obesity crisis, today’s obese children will become tomorrow’s obese adults whose years of healthy life will be shortened by a whole host of health problems including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.”
She added: “Cuts to councils’ public health grants by government are having a significant impact on the many prevention and early intervention services carried out by councils to combat child obesity.
“This short-sighted approach risks causing NHS costs to snowball due to the ill health consequences of obesity in our younger generation.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our childhood obesity plan is among the most comprehensive in the world – our sugar tax is funding school sports programmes and nutritious breakfasts for the poorest children, and we’re investing in further research into the links between obesity and inequality.
“However, we have always been very clear that this is the not the final word on obesity, and we have not ruled out further action if the right results are not seen.”
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