Figures from a 20-year study of electronic health records from the National Health Service were reviewed by King’s College London researchers. They showed the rate of increase in the number of obese children had slowed in the past decade.
However, the research indicated a third of UK children aged two to 15 were still overweight. Industry experts claimed any reduction was unlikely to be down to the efforts made by food and drink firms to lower FSS content.
“These figures do not absolve the industry and government from doing something about obesity, as there remains a significant proportion of children and adults affected,” Dr Carrie Ruxton, one of the UK’s leading nutritionists, told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“Some researchers in the field think the levelling off is because those who are genetically susceptible to the obesogenic environment have now become fat,” she added.
Childhood obesity had risen by 8% between 1993 and 2003, according to the study. But, between 2004 and 2013, the rates had slowed considerably to 0.4% a year.
Despite figures suggesting the rates had slowed, experts had warned there was little room for complacency and the industry, the health service and UK’s education system should strive to bolster the progress.
Some in the sector claimed that a joint effort to reduce obesity by healthcare, schools, community, industry and government could have contributed to the slowdown in childhood obesity rates.
Ayela Spiro, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), said: “The cumulative effect on initiatives reducing the consumption of energy-dense foods as well as increasing daily physical activity have been developed to reduce environmental factors contributing to weight gain.”
Martin Gulliford, report author and professor of public health at King’s College London, said: “It’s an interesting finding that we see this trend levelling off in younger children.
“At the present time, it’s too early to say whether this result is down to interventions that have been rolled out to address childhood obesity – or whether this reflects some kind of saturation whereby the children who are going to become obese have become obese in the environment in this country.”
UK obesity in figures
- 9.3% of children aged five are obese
- 18.9% of children aged 11 are obese
- 25% of adults are obese
Another commentator suggested that obesity rates among adults were slowing.
Judy Buttriss, director general of the BNF, wrote in her column for FoodManufacture.co.uk’s sister title Food Ingredients, Health & Nutrition last year that the UK could be bucking the western world’s obesity trend.
Findings from the Health Survey for England in December 2013 hinted that obesity rates in adults could be plateauing, she said.
“The changes are small, but they are welcome and suggest that the emphasis on tackling obesity is beginning to pay off.”