Intensive support for obese children and young people is to be provided through new NHS specialist clinics, NHS England announced.
One in 10 (10.1%) reception age children aged 4-5 were obese in 2021/22, and a further 12.1% were overweight, according to NHS Digital. By age 10-11 (school year 6) the number of obese children had increased to almost one in four (23.4%), with 14.3% overweight.
"Research shows that the number of children living with severe obesity doubles from the start of primary school to the end of primary school," an NHS England spokesperson warned.
Last month Dr Kate Allen, science and policy advisor of World Cancer Research Fund International warned that overweight and obesity was now at "record levels in the UK" and that being overweight or obese in childhood could track into adulthood and "store up problems" for the future.
NHS England's national clinical director for children and young people, Professor Simon Kenny, said: "Living with excess weight can cause problems affecting every organ system resulting in long-term complications such as early death, type 2 diabetes, stroke, early joint replacements, and mental health issues."
Reduce Obesity-Related Complications and Hospital Admissions
The announcement means that around 3000 obese children and young people aged between two and 18 years old would be able to gain access to intensive support via the NHS through 10 new specialist clinics set to open this year across England.
To be eligible for the NHS Complications from Excess Weight clinic, patients would have a body mass index (BMI) above the 99.6 percentile and a complication of excess weight, or BMI above the 3.33 standard deviation standard, explained NHS England.
It said if accepted for treatment, patients would reap the benefits of access to specialist NHS doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and dietitians, who would assess complications, provide them with tailored help for diet and lifestyle changes, and deliver mental health support and coaching.
The expert help provided to the children and their families aimed to prevent long-term conditions such as type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of hospital admission – something that for obese youngsters under 17 years of age had "nearly tripled" in a decade – going from 3370 in 2011-12 to 9431 in 2021-22 – the NHS England spokesperson pointed out.
Holistic Approach to Tackling Obesity
In addition to providing treatment, the clinics would also consider the mental wellbeing of the child or young person to help identify factors that had contributed to them becoming obese. "These clinics' holistic approach to treating obesity and its causes will help children and young people in a way that respects them and works with the specific factors of their individual situation," Professor Kenny said.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard commented that "doing nothing is not an option", and that the clinics would provide "intensive, but sensitive" support for obese patients and their families.
Professor Kenny emphasised a commitment to "helping as many children and young people as possible" with their physical and mental health, and stressed the additional clinics were an "important step in helping vulnerable children and young people live healthier and happier lives".