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Obesity increased in reception children in 2018-19, while levels remained similar in year 6 pupils

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Obesity prevalence among reception-aged schoolchildren in England increased between 2017-18 and 2018-19, new statistics from NHS Digital show.

The National Child Measurement Programme1, England – 2018-19 report, published today, shows that the prevalence of obesity in four and five-year-olds rose from 9.5% in 2017-18 to 9.7% in 2018-192. This equates to 58,000 children.

This is a decrease of 0.2 percentage points from the earliest comparable year in 2006-073 when obesity prevalence in reception-aged children stood at 9.9 per cent.

Among year 6 pupils, who are aged 10 and 11, obesity prevalence was 20.2% in 2018-19 (121,000 children). This is similar2 to the level in 2017-18, when it was 20.1%.  

The earliest comparable figures for year 6 pupils date back to 2009-103 when obesity prevalence was 18.7%. This is an increase of 1.5 percentage points over nine years.  

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) – overseen by Public Health England and analysed and reported by NHS Digital – measures the height and weight of over one million children in England annually and provides robust data on the number of children in reception and year 6 who are underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese or severely obese.

In 2018-19, 22.6% of reception children and 34.3% of year 6 children were either overweight or obese.

The report also shows:

  • Around three quarters of reception children were a healthy weight (76.5%). In year 6 it was around two thirds (64.3%).
  • Severe obesity prevalence was higher in year 6 (4.4%) compared to reception (2.4%).
  • The proportion of underweight children was higher in year 6 (1.4%) than in reception (1.0%).


In both age groups, obesity prevalence was higher for boys than for girls. For reception-age children, 10.0% of boys were obese compared to 9.4% of girls. Among year 6 pupils, 22.5% of boys were obese compared to 17.8% of girls.


Obesity prevalence was at least double for children living in the most deprived areas compared to those living in the least deprived areas4. In reception, 13.3% in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 5.9% in the least deprived. Severe obesity prevalence was almost four times as high in the most deprived areas (3.9%) than the least deprived areas (1.0%).

In year 6 schoolchildren, the proportion who were obese ranged from 26.9% of those living in the most deprived areas to 11.4% in the least deprived. Severe obesity prevalence was over four times as high (7.1% and 1.5% respectively).

The gap in obesity prevalence between pupils attending schools in the most and least deprived areas has increased over time in both age groups5. Between 2006-07 and 2018-19, this rose by 2.1 percentage points for reception children and 5.4 percentage points for year 6 pupils.

Regional data by local authority6

Obesity prevalence among reception-aged children ranged from 5.4% in Richmond upon Thames to 14.2% in Knowsley. In year 6, the prevalence of obesity ranged from 10.7% in Richmond upon Thames to 29.6% in Barking and Dagenham.


Read the full report

National Child Measurement Programme, England – 2018-19

Notes to editors

  1. The National Child Measurement Programme, overseen by Public Health England but analysed and reported by NHS Digital, collects height and weight measurements of children in reception (aged four to five years) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11 years) primarily in mainstream state-maintained schools in England. Any data collected from independent or special schools are excluded from this analysis. See ‘Coverage’ in appendix B of the full report for more details.
  2. Comparisons between groups and over time have been statistically tested to determine whether differences are likely to be genuine (i.e. statistically significant) or the result of random natural variation. Only statistically significant differences have been described with terms such as ’higher’, ’lower’, ’increase’ or ’decrease’. When a comparison does not show a statistically significant difference, this is described using terms such as ‘similar to’ or ’the same as’.
  3. The National Child Measurement Programme was launched in the 2005-06 academic year and now holds 13 years of reliable data. 2006-07 is the first year that the data are considered to be robust due to the low participation in 2005-06. There was a 95 per cent participation rate in 2018-19. 2009-10 is the first year that the obesity prevalence figures are robust for year 6 schoolchildren.
  4. Deprivation for 2018-19 is based on the postcode of the child, since the child postcode was of high quality (99.9% of records had a valid child postcode in 2018-19).
  5. Deprivation time series analyses are based on postcode of the school since child postcode information was of poor quality in the early years of the NCMP.
  6. Local authority data reported here are by the upper tier local authority where the child lives. Data are also provided in the report for lower tier local authorities.


NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  During the 2018/19 financial year, NHS Digital published 265 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

For media enquiries please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888. Follow us on Twitter: @NHSDigital

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Last edited: 9 October 2019 5:03 pm