Concerns are now being raised as the health inequality gap widens with almost 15% of reception pupils in Middlesbrough obese or severely obese
The latest childhood obesity figures show almost 40,000 youngsters are overweight when they start school.
The stats, compiled by Public Health England, reveal a damning North/South divide as families in poorer areas struggle to maintain a healthier diet.
There are now 39,404 obese reception pupils in the UK, mostly in the north.
Stats show almost 15% of reception pupils in Middlesbrough are obese or severely obese and Hartlepool, Halton and Stoke follow.
In the rest of the top 20, only Greenwich in London represents the south.
Research from the King’s Fund think-tank shows the gap in overweight and obese children from the least and most affluent UK families is larger than in any EU country – 26 percentage points compared to the EU average of eight.
Further research shows worse health outcomes and lower life expectancy in more deprived areas.
Richard Murray, King’s Fund chief executive, said: “There is a widening gap in obesity rates between the richest and poorest areas, with women in our most deprived communities faring particularly poorly.
“Given the serious health risks that come with obesity and significant cost to the NHS, this is exacerbating shocking inequalities.
“People in deprived areas can face significant barriers to accessing affordable, healthy food and taking regular exercise. There is more the NHS can do to support people to make healthier choices.”
In 2019, 64% of adults in England were overweight, while 28% were obese and 3% morbidly obese.
The gap in obesity rates between women from the most and least deprived areas is 17 points, up from 11 in 2014. For men, the deprivation gap is eight points – a rise from just two in 2014.
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Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, said: “The Tories’ failure to tackle childhood obesity is a disgrace.
“Without action ministers are condemning the next generation – especially kids from deprived backgrounds – to serious illness in adulthood. Every child matters, which is why Labour will put children’s health first with the investment and action needed.”