A BRADFORD public health expert said there is “no quick fix” to tackle the rising problem of childhood obesity in the city - and the Covid-19 crisis has made it worse. 

Latest figures show children are more likely to be obese when they leave Bradford’s primary schools than they were a decade ago.

And a new report from Public Health England (PHE) looking back over the last 10 years has concluded there is a strong link between obesity and the poorest areas in the country.

NHS Digital data shows 28 per cent of Year 6 pupils in Bradford were classed as obese in 2019-20, up from 20 per cent in 2009-10.

And it was a similar picture for children in reception, with the proportion who were obese increasing slightly to 11 per cent in 2019-20, from nine per cent a decade before.

Across England obesity among Year 6 pupils rose from 19 per cent in 2009-10 to 21 per cent in 2019-20.

In its report, PHE said rising levels of childhood obesity in deprived areas were offsetting progress seen in more prosperous areas. Bradford has one of the highest proportions of England’s most deprived neighbourhoods, according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation – a measure of living conditions based on factors including health.

Rose Dunlop, Public Health Consultant for Bradford Council, said it’s a growing problem nationally - not just in Bradford - and the last year of Covid-19 restrictions has “amplified the issue”.

She said: “The Council is working with multiple partners and community members to put in place the wide range of measures needed to turn this trend. There is, however, no quick fix to the complex issue.There is a strong correlation between deprivation and obesity, and the Bradford district has the largest gap between the most and least deprived districts of anywhere in the country.

“In the past, we have focussed on giving parents the support they need to help their children on an individual basis as it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure our children have a healthy, balanced diet and the appropriate levels of exercise.”

She added: “We are now looking at how we can change environmental factors like improving green spaces, improving active travel routes, helping parents cook and reducing the reliance on low cost takeaways.

“Parents can also support their family to live a healthier lifestyle through the Living Well website (mylivingwell.co.uk) and programme. 

“We are currently running a campaign to get everyone active for just 20 minutes a day and would encourage everyone to get involved and join the fun on social media using #20minmovement.

"Our local ambition is to reverse the rising tide of obesity in our local population, and the long term impacts on health from heart disease to diabetes, by redoubling our efforts in this area. To achieve this we will also need the support of schools, community groups, families and other partners to help our children live a healthier and happier life.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, said: “Obesity is complex and is influenced by a range of factors, including education, income and the places that people live in, which may in part explain why we are seeing more overweight children in the most deprived areas.

"Too many children are living with obesity, threatening their future mental and physical health .Bold measures are needed to tackle this.”
Obesity costs the NHS more than £6bn per year and the NHS Confederation, a membership body for NHS organisations, said further action is urgently needed.

Caroline Cerny, alliance lead at Obesity Health Alliance, said more deprived areas may not have safe and well-maintained outdoor areas for children to play, or shops selling healthier food.

She added: “Previous government efforts to reduce child obesity have focused on awareness and education. But research is clear that this approach is ineffective and does nothing address the structural causes of inequality.”