Only 1.8% of council wards are reducing childhood obesity

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Obesity levels in England continue to rise, but a small handful of primary schools are managing to reduce the weight of their pupils. It’s an interesting topic that we’ve been exploring as although the prevalence of obesity is rising, there a lot of different theories as to what causes it. Diet and exercise are the obvious ways to combat it, but some studies are looking at the causes of obesity in different ways. Proximity of fast food restaurants to schools, lack of sleep and even air conditioning levels, and perhaps most interestingly a 32 year study of 12,067 people concluded that it was a contagious social disease. In 2013 the America obesity has been classified as disease causing uproar on twitter: #IAmNotADisease.

We found that major hotspots around the country where 1 in 5 people had being diagnosed as obese.

Childhood obesity is also on the rise across the country with hotspots mostly located in a belt across the country from Bristol to Cambridge.

Looking more closely at the national picture, we used the National Childhood Measurement Program data to plot the differences between children when they start primary school, to when they finish. Looking at 2008/09 data when children start in reception class (aged 5) the average rate of obesity across the country is 9.323%. When the same children finish primary school in 2013/14 (aged 10/11), their average rate of obesity has risen to 17.969%. In Ilkeston central council ward, in Erewash Borough Council childhood obesity rose from 5% to 32.6% within 6 years. We found that this wasn’t an anomaly as there were 68 other wards whose childhood obesity rates have increased by more than 400%.

However, looking closely at the graph above, we can also see that there are a small number of council wards that are successfully reducing the rate of childhood obesity. Whilst 98.2% of wards in England are facing a rise, 1.8% (138 wards out of 7618 wards in England) are reducing the incidence of childhood obesity. You could say they are 138 centres of excellence, who are providing best practices that others could learn from:

We went on to look at whether a lack of awareness about how to create a balanced diet could be a factor, and looked at whether teenagers took GSCE’s in “Design and Technology: Food Technology” or “Home Economics: Food and Nutrition” and found a, ahem, *donut* of qualifications around Leeds and Bradford, with a lower level of students taking the subject in the local area.

So in this blog post we’re going to focus on Bradford council wards to see if we can find any patterns in the local data. We find the overall diagnosed obesity rate in Bradford is 9% with each ward being split as follows:

Being mindful of the concept of obesity being a social disease, we’ve looked at the differences between adult and childhood obesity to see if there are any patterns in the data.

Using a linear correlation to look at the relationship between adult and child obesity in Bradford, we found that there is a 79.1% correlation between the groups, which is statistically significant.

Looking at deprivation levels across the Lower Super Output Areas (LSOA) in Bradford we can also see a similar pattern:


It is often thought that there is a correlation between obesity levels in schools and the number of, and proximity of takeaway restaurants in the local area. Looking at Bradford schools, obesity rates, and takeaways we can see correlations in the Keighley and city centre regions of the city:

So what can be done to help address the issues of childhood obesity? Is there a role for City Councils to change the makeup of the shops in areas of high child obesity so that less takeaway restaurants are allowed to operate in those areas? If the American studies are correct and obesity is a social disease can parents be better educated to create a balanced diet so they can influence their children’s diet now, and going forward?

Identifying the 138 council wards as centres of excellence could certainly help. Bringing them together to identify common practices could provide a national list of best practices to follow, which can only help to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.

Data Sources:
Creative commons image from
Childhood obesity data from the National Child Measurement program
Adult obesity data from NHS Digital – QOF
GCSE results data from Department of Education
LSOA & Ward, and population estimates from ONS
Takeaway restaurants from Food Standards Agency

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