Decrease in obesity among primary-aged children in 2021/22, latest statistics show
Obesity rates in primary school children dropped in 2021/22 after reaching highest recorded levels the previous academic year, new provisional figures from NHS Digital show.
Statistics published show obesity1 prevalence among four and five-year-olds in reception classes decreased from 14.4%2 in 2020/21 to 10.4% in 2021/22.
The National Child Measurement Programme, England, Provisional 2021/22 School Year Outputs report also found that obesity in year six children aged 10 and 11 fell from 25.5% in 2020/21 to 23.5% in 2021/223.
The 2020/21 obesity levels for both age groups were the highest since the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) began4. The collection period for that academic year was disrupted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This meant child measurement data was collected from late March 2021, when schools had fully reopened after being closed to most pupils since early January 2021.
The NCMP, which is overseen by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities 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 obese5.
Local authorities in England measure children in mainstream state-maintained schools6 between September and July each academic year. The provisional findings in this interim publication are based on data submitted by 23 May this year7. Final data for the whole 2021/22 academic year will be published later in 20229.
The 2021/22 figures show that in both age groups, obesity prevalence was higher for boys than for girls. For reception-age children, 10.6% of boys were obese compared to 10.2% of girls. Among year 6 pupils, 26.5% of boys were obese compared to 20.3% of girls.
The proportion of children who were overweight but not obese decreased between 2020/21 and 2021/22 - among reception children it fell from 13.3% to 12.5% and among year 6 pupils it fell from 15.4% to 14.4%.
There was a slight increase in the proportion of underweight children across both age groups. Among reception children, this rose from 0.9% in 2020/21 to 1.1% in 2021/22. In year 6 pupils, this went up from 1.2% to 1.5%.
Chris Roebuck, Chief Statistician at NHS Digital, said: “These statistics provide early useful information about the weight of children in England, particularly in illustrating changes over time.
“The final report later this year will present updated figures, including breakdowns by geography, ethnicity and levels of deprivation.”
Read the full report: National Child Measurement Programme, England, Provisional 2021/22 School Year Outputs
Notes for editors
The obesity prevalence includes severely obese children.
In the statistical publication text and excel tables, percentages are usually shown to one decimal place. The excel tables contain more decimal places.
Each year, children in reception and year six are measured. This means that a separate set of children are measured each year and there is no follow up of specific cohorts (other than the six years of elapsed time when reception children become year six children). For example, the children measured in 2021/22 were different children from those measured in 2020/21.
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 16 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.
The BMI classification of each child is derived by calculating the child’s BMI centile and classifying as follows:
- BMI centile <=2: Underweight
- BMI centile >2 and <85: Healthy weight
- BMI centile >=85 and <95: Overweight
- BMI centile >=95: Obese
- BMI centile >=99.6 Severely obese.
Note: “Severely obese” is a subset of “Obese”. Children with a BMI centile of between 95 and 100 are classified as “Obese” and those with a BMI centile of between 99.6 and 100 are classified as “Severely obese”
This calculation uses age and sex as well as height and weight to take into account different growth patterns in boys and girls at different ages. A child’s BMI centile is a measure of how far a child’s BMI is above or below the average BMI value for their age and sex in a reference population. The NCMP uses the British 1990 growth reference (UK90) to define the BMI classifications. This approach was recommended by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). See “Calculation of prevalence” in Appendix A of the report for more details.
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. This new publication includes data on 808,809 children who were measured between Sept 2021 and May 2022 and whose measurements had been submitted to NHS Digital by the time the data was extracted on 23 May 2022. Details of the data quality work that was undertaken to assure the underlying data used to produce these provisional results are available in the Methodology and Data Quality section of the publication.
The annual NCMP data is expected to be published in November 2022 and will include figures based on the full school year.
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’.
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