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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 11:14 GMT
Child obesity 'a major problem'
School children in a classroom
Children aged five and 11 are tested
Almost one in four five-year olds and one in three 11-year olds is overweight or obese, according to the national child measurement programme.

In 2006/07, 80% of children in England starting and finishing primary school took part in the weighing scheme, compared with half the previous year.

Rates of obesity are worst in the North East, West Midlands and London, the NHS Information Centre report said.

Campaigners said awareness of what was a "normal weight" needed to improve.

The measurement scheme, which children can opt out of, came under fire in 2005/6 because only 48% of children were weighed.

We're looking at overweight children and not seeing them as overweight
Dr David Haslam, National Obesity Forum

It meant the figures were unreliable as there was likely to be a higher rate of opt-out among heavier children.

In response the government said, while it did not want to make the scheme compulsory, it would set a target of 80% uptake.

The latest figures from the 876,416 children weighed show 22.9% of those in reception (aged four to five) and 31.6% of those in year six (aged 10-11) are overweight or obese.

In both age groups, boys are more likely than girls to be obese.

The figures are similiar to those reported last year.

Trends

The report said that data was still missing for some children and further analysis suggested that rates of obesity in 11-year olds could be slightly underestimated.

Consultant paediatrician Mary Rudolf

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said the figures had come as no surprise, but she was encouraged that a higher proportion of children had been weighed and measured.

"Knowing how many children are overweight or obese and spotting trends is key to ensuring that families, communities, public services, industry and government take the right action in tackling obesity.

"We recently published the 372m obesity strategy, which supports creation of a healthy society for children and adults in all fields - from early years, to schools and food, from sport and physical activity to planning, transport, the health service and other areas."

Dr David Haslam, clinical director of the National Obesity Forum, said if you went into a school playground you would not predict that many children were overweight.

"Our perception of weight has changed. We're looking at overweight children and not seeing them as overweight.

"The reason we have these figures is because being overweight is a health risk - we should be paying more attention."

He welcomed the fact that a higher proportion of children were taking part in the scheme.

"The figures need to be used to put pressure on the government and the food industry and schools themselves.

"It's a serious and major problem."

Professor Paul Gately, director of Carnegie Weight Management at Leeds Metropolitan University said the results reinforced childhood obesity as a "key issue".

"Whilst prevention is fundamental, the findings expose the need for treatment for the vast number of children who are already overweight and obese and from this data will allow services to targeted appropriately and effectively."

Stuart Barber, head of policy and public affairs for the British Heart Foundation, said the figures were "distressing".

"How can our children be expected to make informed food choices if healthy food messages are constantly drowned out by a tidal wave of junk food marketing."

SEE ALSO
Low turnout for obesity testing
20 Dec 06 |  Health
Stomach surgery for obese teens
21 Mar 05 |  South Yorkshire
Starting young to tackle obesity
14 Mar 06 |  Scotland
Soft drinks weight gain warning
06 Mar 06 |  Health

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