Obesity levels in children are predicted to increase from their pre-lockdown levels due to restrictions, a Merton councillor has claimed.
Nationally, 30% of Year 6 children were either overweight or obese, according to data produced by the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for the period 2019 to 2020, with south West London’s numbers above that average.
Councillor Rebecca Lanning, cabinet member for adult social care and public health, spoke of how reducing childhood obesity in Merton has been a key priority of the borough’s health and wellbeing board.
Lanning said: “We have seen some emerging evidence that COVID-19 lockdowns, stay at home guidance, as well as the closures of school and leisure facilities, have disrupted children’s routines, leading to some negative impact on their sleep, diet and nutrition and physical activity levels.
“Due to this, we would expect the impact of this to lead to some increases in childhood obesity levels compared to 2019/20.”
The graph above uses data from the NCMP for the boroughs of Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Merton, Sutton, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston upon Thames, Richmond upon Thames and Lambeth, to track trends in obesity in Year 6 students from 2016 to 2020.
For the past few years childhood obesity levels across south-west London in Year 6 pupils has been relatively steady.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity combined in the aforementioned areas in 2016 was 34.25% whilst it was 34.15% in 2020, indicating near identical figures.
Before the pandemic, childhood obesity was already a significant regional issue, and London had the second-highest obesity prevalence in Year 6 pupils out of nine England regions.
In Merton, for example, health inequalities also play a role, with east Merton, which on average consists of more deprived areas, having a higher prevalence of obesity than west Merton.
The graph below tracks the levels of overweight and obesity in Year 6 children for the period 2019 to 2020 across different boroughs.
The figures showcase that Lambeth has the highest prevalence of obesity with 23.7%, followed by Kensington and Chelsea with 22.1%.
In contrast, Richmond upon Thames has the lowest prevalence of both overweight and obesity, amounting to only 23.1% combined, with every other borough’s combined figures at least 30%.
Lanning added: “The Active Mile initiative has started in 20 schools, encouraging children to run or jog for 15 minutes each day during school.”
The Active Mile initiative is just one of the strategies introduced by Merton Council to tackle childhood obesity in the borough.
However, with children being in lockdown and out of school for prolonged periods, the councillor expects that childhood obesity levels increased over the past year.