Recent research from the fifth Millennium Cohort Study was released yesterday showing that one in five children in the UK is now obese by the time they reach 11 years of age.
This is a fairly large increase from around 12-13% when children are 7 years of age to 20% at the age of 11.
I was contacted by Channel 5 News team who had some questions on this topic:
Are you surprised by this latest research?
Unfortunately I’m not. Working in the field of child nutrition means these are the kind of statistics I’m faced with every day. Health professionals have known for a while now that childhood obesity is a huge problem, one that isn’t just going to disappear. Each year we see more figures released and further research showing us that the problem of childhood obesity isn’t going away and so I’m not surprised and I often wonder how it is that others still are.
Why do you think there is such an increase in obesity rates between the age of 7 and 11years?
The research doesn’t explain this as yet, and in the future this may be a promising area of further research, which could unleash ideas for interventions aimed at 7 years, which could aim reduce the further increase at age 11.
I could speculate however, that some of the reasons for the increase in obesity figures between these ages could be due to this being a time when children start to become more independent. They may start to make more of their own food choices as well as having access to pocket money. Parents also may feel less protective as their children get older and feel more at liberty to let them make their own decisions around food and health. Before 11 years of age children are also likely to have developed individual patterns of eating and have set preferences for certain foods. These preferences are more adaptable during the earlier years.
The research also showed a clear link between children’s weight at 11 years and their parent’s level of education, is this something you’re aware of?
Other research has previously shown similar patterns to this. This may be for a number of reasons including that those people who are less educated may also be from areas of higher deprivation. When you put lower education and less money together it actually becomes harder to make the best decisions around healthy eating. For example, to cook a meal from scratch you need to know how to prepare basic ingredients – something that was missing from our education system and schools for many individuals. You also need to have the equipment – knives, chopping boards, ovens and the space, in order to prepare these foods. Unfortunately for many this is not possible and therefore the best option is buying fast food or a typical ready-meal style meal for the family.
Lower education levels may also mean that people are less likely to understand the concept of ‘healthy eating’ and therefore would be unlikely to make healthy decisions around their diet. Of course these behaviors get passed on to children and the cycle of poor diet and obesity continues.
What can we do about it?
Unfortunately there isn’t one simple solution to the obesity crisis, if there was, we wouldn’t have one. If we want to change the outlook on obesity, specifically childhood obesity, we need a collaborative approach: from Government, from industry, from health care professionals (including doctors, nurses, midwives and nutritionists), from schools, from policy makers, from big businesses and from individuals. Without getting everyone on board, there simply won’t be much in the way of success because obesity is a wide scale issue affected by and affecting the majority of us, globally.
To see my articles on childhood obesity click the links below: