Obesity gap widening among P1 children in Scotland, figures reveal

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P1 children from the poorest areas are almost twice as likely to be at risk of obesity as those from the least deprived areas, new figures show.

Official statistics show 12.9% of P1 pupils in Scotland’s most deprived areas were classed as being “at risk of obesity” in 2017-18 compared to 6.5% in the country’s most well off areas.

The report found since 2002-03 the proportion of children at risk of being overweight or obese has increased in the most deprived areas but decreased in the least deprived places, resulting in the “current high levels of inequality.”

It said there are now “substantial inequalities in child unhealthy weight across Scotland.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for action to tackle the problem.

Health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s really worrying to learn that children’s backgrounds continue to have such a serious influence over their health. These statistics ought to ring alarm bells for ministers.

“Obesity can affect people’s quality of life and puts a huge strain on the NHS.

“Fostering healthy habits at a young age has real long term benefits for families and our health service.

“We need to ensure that every parent in Scotland has access to the support they need to give their child a healthy start in life.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats would invest in sport, support people to make informed choices and dodge junk food, as well as extend the rights of GPs to social prescribing, including free access to exercise programmes if they judge it will help a person’s health and well-being.”

More than three-quarters (76.5%) of P1 children in 2017-18 had a body mass index (BMI) in the healthy weight range, according to the NHS National Services Scotland data published on Tuesday.

The study found 2.3% of children were classed as at risk of being overweight and 10.1% were at risk of obesity while  1.1% of P1s were at risk of being underweight.

Boys were found to be slightly less likely than girls to be of a healthy weight.

The report was based on data from 52,534 children who had a P1 review in 2017-18, which equates to 87.6% of the estimated population of five-year-olds living in Scotland in mid-2017.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The consequences of an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are amongst the most serious public health issues facing many countries.

“We’re determined to improve Scotland’s diet, increase the number of people with a healthy weight, and support more people to be more active, more often.

“We’re aiming to half childhood obesity by 2030 through a range of measures designed to help people make healthier choices, including proposals to restrict in-store promotions and marketing of food that is high in fat, sugar or salt but with little or no nutritional benefit.

“Already, children in two-thirds of primary schools take part in the Daily Mile and 99% of schools are delivering at least two hours of PE every week.”

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