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What is the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?

What is the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?

Childhood obesity was in the news last week as the results of new research into the changes in childhood obesity since 1946 were published.

Researchers from University College london and Loughborough University were looking for changes in trends over time, and the potential influence of factors such as social class on rates of childhood obesity.

They looked at children aged between 10 and 11, and compared average weight of those born in 1946 up until 2001 taking into account socioeconoomic background.

The results of the research were probably predictable but nonetheless they’re interesting.

Child obesity statistics

The researchers found that:

- Children born in 1946 had an average weight of 36.2kg if their fathers were professional, compared with 33.9kg if their fathers were unskilled

- Children born in 1958 had an average weight of 35.6kg if their fathers were professional, compared with 34kg if their fathers were unskilled

- Children born in 1970 had an average weight of 36.1kg if their fathers were professional, compared with 35.1kg if their fathers were unskilled

- Children born in 2001 had an average weight of 39.8kg if their fathers were professional, compared with 41.8kg if their fathers were unskilled

In the 55 years from 1946 to 2001, children from higher socioeconomic classes have gained an average 3.6kg in weight. Those from lower socioeconomic classes have gained an average 7.9kg in weight. Whilst all classes have gained weight of the time period, the issue has flipped in the sense that lower socioeconomic classes are now more affected by childhood obesity.

So what does this mean for future generations?

The fact that children’s weight has increased at a much faster rate in lower socioeconomic classes than it has in higher ones is both interesting and alarming. But the fact that an average child’s weight has increased by so much means greater effort will be required to prevent future generations suffering from obesity related illness.

It is this realisation that led to England’s National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) in 2005, and, more recently, the NHS Children’s Health & Monitoring Programme (CHAMP).

What is the NHS CHAMP Scheme?

Nursery aged children are being weighed in Manchester as part of the battle against childhood obesity. From the age of three they will be weighed yearly, and parents subsequently informed as to whether they are underweight and overweight - providing advice on the action which can be taken.

Since 2015, Manchester’s School Health Service has offered to weigh and measure every primary aged child annually. The team now weigh 45,000 children every school year using high accuracy, digital weighing scales from Marsden.

Rather than feeding back growth measurements to parents at the beginning and end of primary school (age 4-5 and age 10-11) as is the case with NCMP, NHS CHAMP invites parents to view their children’s results every year in order to get a better picture of their health. It also means issues can be addressed earlier and, hopefully, more effectively.

NHS CHAMP receives the data from the School Health Service and engages with parents via an online platform, This health initiative intends to curb the childhood obesity trend through positive behaviour change.

“We know that children are starting school heavier than their predecessors,” Sarah Vince-Cain, Clinical Programme Manager for NHS CHAMP, told us. “We now have data to help us understand how this maps across diverse populations and to explore why this phenomenon applies more to children of certain population groups than others.”

Measurement in schools

NHS CHAMP not only receives and analyses the data from measurement in schools - they also feed the results back to parents via an online platform. Parents can view and track their child’s measurements - weight, height and BMI - over time and seek advice on healthy lifestyles. Socioeconomic backgrounds have not affected how responsive parents are to the programme. Any parent is free to sign up to the service; all that is required is a connection to the internet to log in to the platform.

“Irrespective of social background, our experience is that parents of primary aged children are universally interested in their children's growth pattern and that they are familiar with accessing email and web based information on smartphones,” Sarah told us. “The NHS CHAMP website uses a visual chart to illustrate how a child is growing over time and the colour combination of the chart is such that parents are easily able to identify if their child is growing well.”

Ofsted considering nationwide implementation

Given the success of the NHS CHAMP initiative in Manchester thus far, it’s not surprising that the scheme is likely to expand across the UK as more NHS Trusts understand its positive impact. The programme routinely welcomes NHS colleagues from across the country. Providing growth results via an innovative and accessible website, as well as signposting parents to local services, is what has really made the difference. Changing attitudes by providing clear, indisputable data is what Sarah and the NHS CHAMP team stand by and believe in.

“Behaviour change theory tells us that positive lifestyle changes are unlikely to happen without an initial awareness. NHS CHAMP invites parents to understand their children's growth pattern and embeds the philosophy that children should be able to grow within the healthy range, eating well and staying active. We have found that parents welcome honest, trustworthy feedback regarding their children's growth.

“From what we have seen so far, if adopted on a national level, NHS CHAMP can change the trend we are seeing with UK childhood obesity. If we have the opportunity to do this, I believe that we owe it to future generations.”

Later this year, the University of Manchester will be publishing a paper covering the effect NHS CHAMP has had on average child weight in Manchester. Keep an eye on our blog for our coverage of this.

The Marsden digital weighing scales used by NHS CHAMP for measurement in schools can be purchased here.

What can parents do to prevent Childhood Obesity?
Monitor Baby Fat

Usually, babies are weighed at birth and then on a regular basis by a midwife or health visitor. In the UK, as part of the National Child Measurement Programme, a child is also meant to be weighed when they first start primary school.

However, with obesity on the rise, can parents do more to prevent childhood obesity from birth?

Whilst you may want to weigh your baby frequently - say, once a week - you should bear in mind that particularly in their early weeks a baby’s weight could be noticeably affected by feeding.

For example, the first week’s weighing could be just after a baby feeds, and the following week just before - or vice versa. The two readings will make it look like your baby has gained little or no weight - and the last thing you want is unnecessary worry. That’s why, ideally, you should weigh your baby at the same time of the day each time - and either always before or always just after a feed. This will build a more accurate display of their growth.

Is childhood obesity caused by junk food?

Last week’s research results had prompted the suggestion that junk food, typically cheaper and more easily accessible that healthier meal options, was the cause for the accelerated child weight increases in lower socioeconomic backgrounds. But when awareness of childhood obesity is greater, regardless of background, then progress can be made.

“Sometimes language differences can hinder communication but culture rarely does. Parents naturally assume responsibility for their children's health and are well equipped to instigate appropriate lifestyle changes. Where support is requested, the request comes from a place of genuine concern and motivation to change.”

Sarah believes that this approach has indeed made a difference, and the figures collated from measurement in schools since 2015 back this up. The fact that not all parents have yet signed up to NHS CHAMP give greater clarity in the results, too, says Sarah:

“Children of NHS CHAMP-registered parents were significantly more likely to maintain a healthy BMI or transition towards a healthy BMI between measurements than those not registered with the website.”

Measuring BMI in Children

A research study in Sweden has found that children’s BMI development and weight curves can be predicted at two points in time – aged one and aged five.

The research by Halmstad University is important for treatment, intervention and prevention of excessive weight and obesity in childhood.

At about nine months of age, children usually have a peak in their BMI development. At six, the BMI curve then shows a slight decline, before going up again.

The study has shown that some children show neither a peak or a dip in their curve – and these children often have a BMI development which is above average.

Susann Regber, lecturer in Nursing at Halmstad University, said: “This knowledge is useful in practice so that nurses and doctors can assume how a child’s BMI curve may develop. Thus, there is an objective tool that can be used in the prevention of excessive weight in children.

“Children with obesity may suffer from various health problems during childhood. But childhood obesity that persists and continues in adulthood also results in early unhealthiness. High blood pressure and diabetes, for example, may already occur in adolescence or as a young adult, instead of middle age or later in life. There it is important to prevent future generations of children from having this health problem.”

Weighing Children and Babies

When you are weighing children or babies, it requires the utmost precision due to their smaller size and how much difference a small change in weight can make.

Accurately weighing children and babies is vital to monitoring their health, and in our latest free guide we cover everything from preparing to weigh, to carrying out the procedure effectively, to recording the weight reading afterwards.

Weighing provides a guide that can be used to monitor whether a child is of a healthy weight, overweight or underweight. Poor growth may be the first (or only) indicator for a concern, with many diseases for example not displaying other obvious symptoms.

Regular measurements of a child's weight can help diagnose problems. Additionally, weight will need to be used when accurately calculating drug doses and treatment.

In our guide, which you can download below, expert advice and guidance has been sourced from Great Ormond Street Hospital (where all babies and young children are weighed with 24 hours of admission), Nursing Times and from our own expertise as a weighing scales manufacturer and supplier of 91 years' standing.

Additionally, we have included appropriate accuracies required depending on the age of the child, which are recommended by the UK Weighing Federation (UKWF).

Of course, if you are intending to weigh babies and children and need help with choosing the right weighing scale, you can call the Marsden team on 01709 364296. You can also contact us here.

Download A Marsden Guide to Weighing A Child Or Young Person