Primary school-aged children are to be weighed as the new school year starts in September, amid fears the coronavirus lockdowns have sparked an obesity crisis.
A combination of homeschooling, lack of regular exercise and PE lessons, and access to more snacks while at home, could have affected our children’s well being.
Youngsters were due to be measured as part of the National Child Measurement Programme [NCMP], but it was paused in March 2020, meaning there is no way of knowing if there is a problem, or the extent of it if it exists.
The results will be passed on to parents to warn them if their child or children is at risk of developing a weight problem.
Tam Fry, the chair of the National Obesity Forum, told the Independent: “We expect the figures will have gone up and we expect the results, when we get them, to be a real jolt to Boris Johnson.
“We have got to do something very serious about this problem. We cannot wait to the end of Covid.
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“I am absolutely delighted that the [NCMP] is coming back.”
He said that while experts could not put a figure on how much weight children had put on since March last year, anecdotal evidence suggested that it was significant.
Under the current scheme, schoolchildren are weighed just twice in primary school.
Mr Fry called on ministers to respond to the Covid crisis by increasing the frequency of weigh-ins to once a year.
Russell Viner, a past president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said the programme was “hugely important for us post-pandemic”.
“There are a number of reasons to be concerned that the pandemic has increased obesity across the population – including in children,” he said.
“[But] we have no data on what the pandemic has done to obesity in children and the NCMP is essential for this.”
Labour called on the government to ensure the programme was backed by the “public health resources needed to tackle obesity”.
Shadow public health minister Alex Norris said: “We can’t just shame children and their parents into losing weight after a difficult 18 months – schools and families must be given the help needed if we’re to see any real improvement in the obesity crisis.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson said that while the pause to the programme during the pandemic was understandable, “now that it is safe to go ahead, the government should waste no time in putting in place a proper strategy to tackle the obesity crisis facing children in the UK”.
Guidance on the NCMP warns children with obesity are five times more likely to be obese as an adult.
Children living with obesity are also more likely to be ill, be absent from school, and require more medical attention than their classmates who are a healthy weight.
Before the pandemic the UK had some of the highest rates of overweight children in western Europe.
Around one in three children leaving primary school in England were overweight, with one in five classified as obese.
The latest available results from NCMP show that in reception class – ages four and five – the prevalence of obesity increased from 9.7 per cent in 2018-19 to 9.9 per cent in 2019-20.
In year 6, that figure rose from 20.2 per cent 2018-19 to 21 per cent the following year.