Research funded as part of the CLOSER programme underpins Government’s Child Obesity Strategy
Work led by NSHD scientists into the rise of the obesity epidemic across five generations has been cited in the Government’s Child Obesity Strategy.
The study – believed to be the first of its kind – tracked increases in body mass index (BMI) for more than 56,000 people born in the UK from 1946 to 2001. It was carried out by researchers at the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL, MRC Human Nutrition Research at Cambridge, and the UCL Institute for Child Health.
The findings showed that children born since 1990 are up to three times more likely than older generations to be overweight or obese by age 10.
Since 1946, every generation has been heavier than the previous one – and worryingly, it is the most overweight people who are becoming even heavier. For example, the heaviest 2 per cent of people born in 1946 had a BMI of around 20 by the age of 11, compared to 27 for the most obese children born at the turn of the century.
People are also becoming overweight or obese at an increasingly younger age. Half the men of the 1946 generation were overweight by the time they were 41 years old, compared to age 30 for men born in 1970. Half the women born in 1946 were overweight by age 48, compared to 41 for the 1970 generation.
Other longitudinal evidence used to support the strategy has shown that 5-year-olds from the poorest households are twice as likely to be obese compared to children from better-off homes. By age 11, they were almost three times as likely to be dangerously overweight.
Longitudinal studies have also been used to justify specific measures outlined in the strategy. Research from the Millennium Cohort Study released earlier this year found that taking part in organised sports outside of school improves children’s educational attainment. The Government’s strategy emphasises the importance for children getting a least an hour of physical activity every day, and includes measures to support school sports.