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Why has childhood obesity risen in Suffolk and Essex in the last five years?

PUBLISHED: 13:21 20 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:29 20 October 2017

Concerns have been raised again over childhood obesity levels in Suffolk. Picture: CHRIS RADBURN/PA WIRE

Concerns have been raised again over childhood obesity levels in Suffolk. Picture: CHRIS RADBURN/PA WIRE

Childhood obesity is on the rise in Suffolk and Essex, with almost one in 10 reception pupils hitting dangerously fat levels.

New “shocking” figures prompted claims that children are caught in a “perfect storm” of cheap processed food, sedentary modern technology, and a prevailing view among parents that children must remain in view at all times.

Data from NHS Digital shows that obesity among children in the first year of primary school in Suffolk has risen over the last five years. The proportion has increased from 8.03% in 2011/12 to 8.81% in 2016/17. In Essex, figures only go back to 2013/14. But in the last three years, it has also risen – from 8.11% to 8.4%.

There has been a slight annual fall in overall overweight and obesity levels but both authorities admit they must do more.

Barbara Paterson, East of England deputy director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England said it was a “wake-up call”. She said: “Childhood obesity is the challenge of a generation.”

Deprived areas are particularly affected by childhood obesity.

Helen Armitage, Labour spokesperson for children’s services at Suffolk County Council (SCC) said: “This is a shocking state of affairs. Children are caught in the perfect storm of cheap, highly processed food that does not give enough nutritional value, an increase in technology that means children are more sedentary, the sale of school playing fields, and the increased parental concern about children being out of their view.”

She called on the authority to review its Most Active County scheme “as a matter or urgency”.

In Year 6, obesity levels have risen from 15.47% in 2011/12 to 17.1% in 2016/17in Suffolk. In Essex, it has risen from 16.7% to 17.75% in three years.

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Ipswich MP Sandy Martin and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter both backed the sugar tax and soft drinks levy.

Mr Martin added: “We need to look at the whole issue of free school meals. Children come into school and see their friends with chocolate bars and crisps in their packed lunch and they want one too – and wouldn’t you?

“We need to go back to the situation we used to have where almost all children eat a healthy, cooked school dinner, which must be made available to all children.”

Dr Poulter said parents have a “big role” to play in healthy eating among children but said they must not be singled out.

Tony Goldson, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health and chairman of the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “The results this year show a positive change but we recognise there is still more work that needs to be done.

“Giving every child the best start in life is a key priority for Suffolk County Council and tackling childhood obesity is part of that. We are working collaboratively with other organisations in order to tackle this issue, as there are many influencing factors on obesity. There are a number of services and programmes that we lead and support to tackle childhood obesity, which include commissioning OneLife Suffolk to support children and their families across Suffolk to make healthier choices. We value the important role that schools play and their support of the Daily Mile initiative in Suffolk.

“It is pleasing to see a change for the better here in Suffolk but it will take a long term and sustained effort to bring about long term change.”

“Adrian Coggins, head of commissioning for Public Health and Well Being at Essex County Council, said: “We need to maintain and grow our collective effort to address the challenge of overweight and obesity.

“Of particular concern is that children in more deprived areas are becoming overweight quicker than children in more affluent areas, and we need to focus our efforts accordingly.

“Essex County Council has done a lot of work over the past year to see how we can collectively support as many people as possible and help people maintain a healthy weight over the long term. This has included working with the voluntary sector, as a route to communities.”

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