Report shows ‘obesity epidemic’ among children

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A report published today shows that the level of childhood obesity in Tower Hamlets is nearly 7 per cent above the national average as a quarter of children measured were found to be overweight.

The research, carried out by the NHS, measured 5290 children in reception year and year six.

Just over 25 per cent of the 10-11 year olds were found to be obese, compared to a national average of 19 per cent and 21.9 per cent across London. The figure for four to five year olds was 12.7 per cent, compared to an average of 9.4 per cent for the country as a whole and 11.1 per cent for the capital.

Paradoxically, the number of underweight children in the borough was also higher than the average. 1.7 per cent of reception age children were found to be underweight, compared to 1 per cent nationally. The figure rises to 2 per cent for children in year six, compared to a national average of 1.3 per cent.

This comes only three years after the council received £4.7m in government funds to tackle what Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust called an “obesity epidemic”.

Tower Hamlets has consistently been amongst the highest in London and England since the National Child Measurement Program started in 2006/7.

However, the borough also has the highest level of child poverty in the country with two thirds of children living in household below the poverty line. It also has one of the lowest ratios of open spaces per person in the country.

A council spokesperson said: “Tower Hamlets offers many schemes and programmes to make it easier and more affordable to access healthier options and maintain a healthy weight.  If a child’s weight is above the healthy range and they’re registered with a GP, they can access the Tower Hamlets Weight Management Service for Children and Young People which includes BEST, MEND or Activ8, three types of group weight management programmes which offer tips on how to eat more healthily and become more physically active.”

Esther Trenchard-Mabere, Associate Director of Public Health (Tower Hamlets) NHS East London echoed this sentiment, saying: “In Tower Hamlets we have a strong multi-agency partnership, the Healthy Borough Programme, committed to tackling the causes of child obesity in the Borough to make it easier for children and families to become more active and have healthier diets.  This includes including long term planning to increase safe walking and cycling routes, work with convenience stores and fast food outlets to improve the availability of healthier choices, work with nurseries, children’s centres, schools and workplaces to build healthy eating and physical activity into how they are run and work with local communities to identify and tackle barriers to healthy eating and physical activity.

“We think we are seeing early some signs of success.  In year six the proportion 10-11 year olds… found to be obese increased from 23.0% in 2007 to 25.7% in 2009, one of the highest rates of increase in the country.  However from 2009-2011 there has been no further increase in the proportion of 10-11 year olds found to be obese, 25.7% in 2009 and 2010 and 25.6% in 2011 we have seen a consistent year on year decrease in levels of obesity in 4-5 year olds from 14.6% in 2007 to 12.6% in 2011. “

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