Childhood Obesity: Facts and Figures

  • In the UK, 3 in 10 children aged 2-15 years are either overweight or obese, and 1 in 6 is obese.
  • Obesity increases the risk of developing a range of health problems including type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems, respiratory illnesses, joint and movement problems and psychological disorders, such as depression, low self-esteem and disordered eating.
  • Children who are obese are at an increased risk of becoming obese adults and they risk the early appearance of obesity-related health problems normally associated with middle age.
  • It is estimated that obesity reduces life expectancy by between 3-13 years. Obesity is estimated to be responsible for 1% to 3% of total health expenditure in most countries.
  • The estimated annual cost to the NHS of diseases related to overweight and obesity in 2010 is £14,416 million and £79.1 million for NHS Lewisham1.

If current UK trends continue, one fifth of boys and one third of girls will be obese by 2020. Lewisham has a high proportion of children identified at risk of obesity; two years data from the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP)2 reveal that the prevalence of obesity for children in both Reception (aged 4-5 years) and Year 6 (aged 10-11) years were significantly higher than the England average. Results for 2008/09 showed that 12% of Reception children were obese as were 22.1% of children in Year 6, this equates to over 900 children identified at risk of obesity in these two year groups alone. When overweight and obesity are combined 25.2% of Reception children and 37.3% of Year 6 are affected, a total of over 1660 children for these two age groups.

To determine treatment needs the clinical definition of overweight and obesity is used (overweight BMI greater than the 91st centile and obesity above the 98th centile), this showed that 17% of reception and nearly a third of Year 6 were overweight or obese.

Results of NCMP for Lewisham 2007/08 and 2008/09 (screening and clinical definitions of obesity)

To provide an understanding of the scale of the problem in Lewisham the number of children aged 1-15 years who are obese was estimated using the formulae based on the Health Survey for England (2006) which indicated that there were 8,573 children aged 1-15 years who were obese which included 2,595 children aged 1-4 years.

Estimated obesity prevalence among children by age and gender in Lewisham 2009

Lewisham is the third largest inner London borough in terms of population. The population of Lewisham has a high proportion of young people, with nearly a fifth of the population under 15, with 8.2% of the population under 5 years. The overall pre-school and school-age population is expected to rise from 20.5% to 21.2% by 2015 which is comparable to the national and London picture. The population is forecast to grow over the coming years by a further 4%.

Projected population change by age group

The borough is the 15th most ethnically diverse local authority in England with over 170 different languages spoken, overall 40% of all Lewisham residents are of Black and minority ethnic origin. It is projected that by 2020 the percentage of residents from Black and minority ethnic groups will have increased to 44%. Lewisham has a high proportion of children and young people from Black and minority ethnic groups (59% of under 15) which is higher than London, with the highest ethnic groups being Black African (17.6%), Black Caribbean (13.8%) and Black Other (13.2%) with under 15% from all other ethnic groups.

Comparison of ethnicity of children 0-14 years, Lewisham and London 2009

Source: GLA round 2007, PLP Low EGPP.

2009 National data show a higher prevalence of overweight (including obesity) in Black African and Caribbean children and obesity almost four times more common in Asian children than in white children. Local analysis of the NCMP results shows that there is no statistically significant difference in the prevalence of obesity between ethnic groups in Lewisham. Obesity prevalence in children is linked to socio-economic status with higher obesity prevalence in more deprived areas. Analysis of the national NCMP (2008/09) revealed that the prevalence of obesity for Reception children in the most deprived group was almost double that of the least deprived group. In year 6 children the prevalence was almost two-thirds higher in the deprived group.

Proportion of children at risk of being obese, by IMD rank of obesity, Reception and Year 6 2008/09

Lewisham is the 39th most deprived local authority in the country, with 8 out of 166 Super Output areas in the 10% most deprived and 64 in the 20% most deprived in the country. The proportion of children living in income deprived households varies from 10 – 74% across the borough. Analysis of LSOAs in Lewisham confirms that the link between deprivation and obesity is present in the borough. However, it is only a small factor, accounting for just about 3.3% of the variation. This may be due to the overall level of deprivation within Lewisham.

Obesity prevalence: Year 6 2008/09 and IMD score, national and local results

Local analysis of the NCMP results by LSOA shows that there is no consistent pattern across Lewisham in rates of obesity with areas with the highest and lowest proportions scattered throughout the boroughs. Analysis at a school level revealed that in 2008/09 the majority of schools within the borough had childhood obesity rates above the England average. For Year 6 children, 10 schools had significantly higher proportions of obese children than the England average. Only one school had a rate significantly below the England average. A similar picture was observed with Reception year children, 11 schools had significantly higher proportion of obese children than the England average and 2 schools with rates significantly below the England average.

Proportions of year 6 children classified as obese in Lewisham primary schools (NCMP 2008/09)

Lewisham has the highest proportion of lone parent families in London, with 17.8% of all households’ lone parent families, this compares to 11.6% for Inner London and 7.2% for England. In 2009 a quarter of all pupils were eligible for free school meals (FSM), a slightly higher proportion (0.1%) than England for both nursery and primary schools; however the gap between Lewisham’s secondary pupils’ entitlement to FSM and England is wider by 4.3%.

Proportion of children eligible for FSM- Lewisham and England 2009

National analysis of the NCMP data (2008/09) shows obesity prevalence increasing with increasing levels of children eligible for FSM. Analysis of the local data suggest that there may be an association between the proportion of children entitled to receive free school meal and the proportions categorised as overweight or obese by the NCMP, but the association is weak, and makes a very small contribution to the variation in children’s weight.

The latest figures (August 2010) for the percentage of children eating school meals are;

  • Primary pupils taking a school meal - 63%
  • Secondary pupils taking a school meal - 30%

Uptake of free school meals

  • Primary taking a free meal - 87%
  • Secondary taking a free meal - 75%

Compared to national data the percentage of pupils who have school meals in Lewisham is higher in primary schools (63% compared to 43% nationally) but lower in secondary schools (30% compared to 37.6% nationally). Lewisham has commissioned a survey conducted by the Schools Health Education Unit (SHEU) that includes self-reported information on the eating and activity patterns of children biannually since 2004. The survey collects information on children in years 2 (ages 6-7), 4 (ages 8-9), 6 (ages 10-11), 8 (ages 12-13) and 10 (ages 14-15). In 2010 a total of 3038 children participated in the survey. Headline results for Lewisham school children in 2010 included

Primary schools

  • 1% of year 2 and 4% of years 4 and 6 had nothing to eat or drink for breakfast on the day of the survey
  • 8% ate no fruit or vegetables the day before the survey, 32% ate 5 or more portions
  • 57% ate fresh fruit, 40% vegetables, 21%crisps, 22% sweets and chocolates on most days
  • 83% enjoyed physical activities ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a lot’
  • 4% had low self esteem scores

Secondary schools

  • 14% had nothing to eat or drink for breakfast on the day of the survey
  • 37% of pupils said they would like to lose weight, 51% were happy with their weight
  • 27% reported not eating a lunch on the day before the survey
  • 17% ate no fruit or vegetables the day before the survey, 20% ate 5 or more portions
  • 37% ate fresh fruit, 37% vegetables, 23% crisps, 30% sweets and chocolates on most days
  • 71% enjoyed physical activities ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a lot’
  • 1% had very low self esteem scores


  1. Foresight. Government office for science. Tackling obesities: Future Choices-project report. (2nd ed) 2007
  2. National Child Measurement Programme: England 2008/09 School Year. The NHS Information Centre. Dec 2009
  3. Child obesity and socioeconomic status. National Obesity Observatory data briefing. October 2010




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