Press Releases

One in four three-year-olds overweight or obese

11 June 2007

Almost one child in four is either overweight or obese at age three, a UK-wide survey has found. The study, the biggest-ever of its kind, measured the height and weight of 14,000 children aged three. Preliminary results reveal that 18 per cent were overweight and a further 5 per cent obese.

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Almost one child in four is either overweight or obese at age three, a UK-wide survey has found.

The study, the biggest-ever of its kind, measured the height and weight of 14,000 children aged three. Preliminary results reveal that 18 per cent were overweight and a further 5 per cent obese.

Researchers from the Institute of Child Health at University College London and the Institute of Education, University of London, found that boys and girls were equally likely to be overweight or obese.

Children in Northern Ireland and Wales were, on average, more likely to be overweight or obese than those living in England and Scotland. Children in less advantaged areas of England and Scotland were slightly more likely to be overweight or obese than those living in more advantaged areas.

There were marked differences between ethnic groups. Only 9 per cent of Indian children were overweight or obese compared with 23 per cent of White and 33 per cent of Black Caribbean children.

The research was carried out using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002.

Carol Dezateux, Professor of Paediatric Epidemiology at the Institute of Child Health, who led the team carrying out the analyses, emphasised the value of the nationwide evidence in the Millennium Cohort Study in helping to understand the origins of childhood obesity. Professor Dezateux said: “The finding that almost one quarter of three-year-olds living in the UK are obese or overweight is of great public health concern. These figures augment data from other recent smaller or more local UK surveys by providing unique information on the geographic and ethnic variation in childhood overweight and obesity. These findings will assist government in tackling childhood obesity by helping to inform public health policy.”

Notes for editors:

1. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies is an Economic and Social Research Council Resource Centre based at the Institution of Education. The Centre houses three internationally-renowned birth cohort studies: the 1958 National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study. The Millennium Cohort Study is co-funded by a number of government departments.

2. The second sweep of the Millennium Cohort Study collected information from 15,590 families of children born across the UK in 2000-2 when they reached the age of three. Almost all of these families (14,898) had been in the first survey when the children were nine-months-old. An additional 692 families were recruited for the second survey in England who had been eligible for the first survey but not included. The study’s first sweep, carried out during 2001-2, laid the foundations for this major new longitudinal research resource, involving a year-long cohort of around 19,000 babies. It recorded the circumstances of pregnancy and birth, the all-important early months of life, and the social and economic backgrounds of the families into which the children were born. The second survey data allow researchers for the first time to chart the changing circumstances of these children and their families and offer some direct measurements of the children’s development at the age of three which can be related to their earlier experiences. The sample was designed to provide adequate numbers from areas with high proportions of minority-ethnic residents (in England) and high child poverty, as well as each country in the UK. and areas with high proportions of minority-ethnic residents (in England) and high child poverty. The areas referred to as “less advantaged” are those in the top quarter of wards on the child poverty index. All other areas are treated as “advantaged”. The areas are those that the families lived in at the time of the first survey.

3. The UCL Medical Research Council Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health at the Institute of Child Health developed the protocols for collection of height and weight measurements, used to calculate the child’s body mass index (BMI), in collaboration with the team at the Institute of Education and undertook the preliminary analyses presented here. BMI is a ratio of height and weight and is calculated by dividing weight in kilos by height in metres squared. Children were classified as overweight or obese according to their BMI value, sex and exact age in months. Boys with a BMI value of 17.9 or above were classified as overweight and those with a BMI value of 19.6 or above were classified as obese. For girls, the equivalent BMI values were 17.6 (overweight) and 19.4 (obese). These calculations were based on the International Obesity Task Force cut-offs.

4. Tackling childhood obesity is a cross-Government priority. In 2004, the Departments of Health; Education and Skills; and Culture, Media and Sport created a joint public service agreement target to halt the year-on-year rise in obesity among children under age 11 by 2010.