Obesity rates in primary school children dropped in 2021/22 after reaching highest recorded levels the previous academic year, new provisional figures show.
Statistics published by NHS Digital show obesity prevalence among four and five-year-olds in reception classes decreased from 14.4% in 2020/21 to 10.4% in 2021/22.
The National Child Measurement Programme, England, Provisional 2021/22 School Year Outputs report also found that obesity in year six children aged 10 and 11 fell from 25.5% in 2020/21 to 23.5% in 2021/22.
The 2020/21 obesity levels for both age groups were the highest since the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) began. The collection period for that academic year was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
This meant child measurement data was collected from late March 2021, when schools had fully reopened after being closed to most pupils since early January 2021.
The NCMP, which is overseen by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and analysed and reported by NHS Digital, measures the height and weight of children in England annually and provides data on the number of children in reception and year six who are underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese or severely obese.
Local authorities in England measure children in mainstream state-maintained schools between September and July each academic year.
The provisional findings in this interim publication are based on data submitted by 23 May this year. Final data for the whole 2021/22 academic year will be published later in 2022.
The 2021/22 figures show that in both age groups, obesity prevalence was higher for boys than for girls. For reception-age children, 10.6% of boys were obese compared to 10.2% of girls. Among year 6 pupils, 26.5% of boys were obese compared to 20.3% of girls.
The proportion of children who were overweight but not obese decreased between 2020/21 and 2021/22 – among reception children it fell from 13.3% to 12.5% and among year 6 pupils it fell from 15.4% to 14.4%.
There was a slight increase in the proportion of underweight children across both age groups. Among reception children, this rose from 0.9% in 2020/21 to 1.1% in 2021/22. In year 6 pupils, this went up from 1.2% to 1.5%.
Chris Roebuck, Chief Statistician at NHS Digital, said: “These statistics provide early useful information about the weight of children in England, particularly in illustrating changes over time.
“The final report later this year will present updated figures, including breakdowns by geography, ethnicity and levels of deprivation.”