Childhood obesity is one of the most significant problems affecting the UK. According to new statistics released by the NHS, obesity amongst children has increased in line with restrictions. The figures; taken from the NHS National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for 2020-2021, show that a quarter of Year 6 pupils will be starting secondary school clinically obese, along with 14% with Reception-aged children.
The statistics worsen for those who have been most affected by the pandemic. 20% of children in Reception from deprived areas were likely to be obese compared to under 10% in the most affluent households. The same was true for Year 6 children, with 39% versus 14% registering as obese in deprived areas compared to wealthier ones.
Why did obesity in children rise during restrictions?
Essentially it was a perfect storm of factors. Children were often deprived of extracurricular activities and normal curriculum PE lessons during pandemic restrictions. Activities sector research found that a massive 63% of children were less active during lockdowns. 80% of parents said their children had done less than the 60 minutes of daily physical activity mandated for children.
When lessons moved online, it presupposed a level of technological connectivity that didn’t exist for some communities. Alongside physical poverty, many parents became their children’s teachers. They struggled with the responsibilities of work, household tasks and care. The government worked with schools to make options available but without guidance from parents, managing children’s physical activity was difficult.
Restrictions meant that when children did return to school, extracurriculars were still prohibited for some time. With more time at home on the computer, the sedentary lifestyle created for safety wasn’t conducive to maintaining a healthy weight. Those at the poorest end of the scale were more than twice as likely to be at risk of obesity than their wealthier peers.
What is causing the obesity issue in children?
The main risk factors for children are physical inactivity and unhealthy diets. Whilst The Eatwell Guide set a comprehensive guide for a healthier diet, it can often be out of reach for some families. More than a quarter of adults and a fifth of children will eat takeaway at least once a week. Most takeaways contain a higher level of fat, sugar and salt and have less nutritional value overall.
Eating habits for deprived children often increase a child’s likelihood of becoming obese. Many families simply can’t afford to eat healthier. Healthier options often require a greater amount of time and effort to learn and will include foods that are highly perishable. The foods that are often advertised may be unhealthy but many can be stored in the freezer, for later consumption.
In the UK today, inactivity is a consequence of increasingly sedentary lifestyles. The technological revolution has meant much more of a concerted effort needs to be made to remain a healthy weight. If the current trend remains uninterrupted, the nation’s populace is set to be 35% less active by 2030, with an already sizeable decrease of 20% since 1960.
What if we don’t act?
Obesity can become a life-long sentence. Children aged 2 -15, are often becoming overweight or obese earlier and remain so until they are older. The longer children are in this position, is the more likely they are to be at risk of developing high blood pressure, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes in their adult life. It is estimated that 30,000 people die each year from causes related to obesity.
Into the years 2022/2023, it is expected that a further 1000 children will be treated for severe complications due to obesity. And as they age, research shows that their prospects are materially damaged by excessive weight. The longer they have the issue, the more likely fitness scenarios are to illicit feelings of discomfort and discrimination.
The cost to the NHS is estimated to reach a massive £9.7 billion by 2050 and the cost to wider society is around £27 billion.
What can be done?
Don’t sideline school sport and PE for the sake of academic subjects. Being active and being academic aren’t opposites.You can improve attainment rates using physical activity if you just use your imagination. Consider making it a consequence of bad behaviour. For pupils who are passionate or excel at sports but don’t have the best behaviour or academic results, you can use sport to encourage them. Make sport what they can work towards if they do well. Subtract time rather than getting rid of sport altogether.
Active travel to and from school has no end of benefits. You can reduce pollution around your school and simultaneously encourage moderate levels of activity. Children learn the value of independence and road safety. Teachers have commented on programmes of this nature, saying that active journeys and active learning in core subjects have resulted in calmer pupils, better prepared for learning who tested better in comparison. Put simply, all manners of physical activity can be good physical activity.
The best thing you can do is to get help. There is no need to struggle through school sport or put physical activity at the heart of lessons or travel by yourself. We can plan your PE programmes, align them with your schools’ values and inspire your pupils to ditch sedentary lifestyles. Let us work with your school to help your activity goals match your school goals.
Join us and we can make childhood obesity a thing of the past.