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Significant increase in obesity rates among primary-aged children, latest statistics show
Obesity rates in both reception-aged and year 6 schoolchildren increased by around 4.5 percentage points between 2019-20 and 2020-21 – the highest annual rise since the National Child Measurement Programme began.
16 November 2021
NHS Digital must be credited as the source of these figures. Regional data is available in this report.
Obesity rates in both reception-aged and year 6 schoolchildren increased by around 4.5 percentage points1 between 2019-20 and 2020-21 – the highest annual rise since the National Child Measurement Programme began.
The National Child Measurement Programme2, England – 2020-21 report, published today by NHS Digital, found obesity prevalence among four and five-year-olds in reception classes rose from 9.9% in 2019-20 to 14.4% in 2020-21.
In 2006-07 - the earliest year for which comparable data is available for this age group - obesity rates stood at 9.9%.
Among year 6 pupils, who are aged 10 and 11, obesity prevalence increased from 21.0% in 2019-20 to 25.5% in 2020-21.
The earliest comparable figures for this age group are from 2009-10, when obesity prevalence was 18.7%.
The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) – overseen by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (formerly Public Health England) and analysed and reported by NHS Digital – measures the height and weight of children in England annually and provides data on the number of children in reception and year 6 who are underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese or severely obese.
The collection period for schools3 to measure their children for this publication would have run from September 2020 to July 2021. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted this. At the end of March 2021, when schools had reopened after being closed to most pupils since early January, local authorities were asked to use the remainder of the academic year to collect child measurement data in a sample of schools to enable a national estimate of children’s weight status, including obesity prevalence, to be produced for 2020-21.
The volume of data collected across the country was much lower than usual4 and consequently this publication focuses on national level results5. National figures in this report are broadly comparable to earlier years because statistical weighting has been applied to the data to ensure the sample is reflective of the population in previous years.
The proportion of children who were a healthy weight dropped between 2020-21 and 2019-20 – among reception children it fell to 71.3% from 76.1% and among year 6 pupils it fell to 57.8% from 63.4%.
The report also shows that in 2020-21:
Obesity prevalence among children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas. In reception-aged children, 20.3% in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 7.8% in the least deprived. In year 6 schoolchildren, the proportion who were obese ranged from 33.8% among those living in the most deprived areas to 14.3% in the least deprived.
The proportion of all children who were either overweight or obese was 27.7% in reception and 40.9% in year 6.
In both age groups, obesity prevalence was higher for boys than for girls. For reception-age children, 14.8% of boys were obese compared to 14.1% of girls. Among year 6 pupils, 29.2% of boys were obese compared to 21.7% of girls.
The proportion of underweight children was higher in year 6 (1.2%) than in reception (0.9%). There was little change in this year-on-year.
In the statistical publication text and excel tables, percentages are usually shown to one decimal place. The excel tables contain more decimal places. In table 2 of the publication, the change among reception-aged children between 2019-20 and 2020-21 was 4.57 percentage points to two decimal places and calculated from the unrounded figures for the two years. For simplicity, this has been described as “around 4.5 percentage points” in this press release. The change in year 6 pupils was 4.50 percentage points. There is always a small degree of uncertainty in the true figure for the entire population to one or more decimal places. This is slightly greater this year when results were obtained for a sample of pupils. This is addressed by presenting confidence intervals alongside the figures in the report.
The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) – overseen by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (formerly Public Health England) and analysed and reported by NHS Digital – was launched in the 2005-06 academic year and now holds 15 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, so this is the earliest year that comparable data for obesity prevalence among reception-aged children is available. 2009-10 is the first year that the obesity prevalence figures are robust for year 6 schoolchildren.
Data is collected primarily in mainstream state-maintained schools in England. Any data collected from independent or special schools is excluded from this analysis.
The National Child Measurement Programme usually 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 2020-21, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupting the collection, 300,000 children were measured. Statistical weighting has been applied to the data to ensure the sample is reflective of the population measured by NCMP in England in previous years. Details of this are in the Methodology and Data Quality section of the publication.
As the volume of data collected across the country was much lower than usual in 2020-21, no local authority level data is available in this publication.
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’.