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Childhood obesity is not an epidemic claims research company

23 Feb 2005

An independent research company has declared that claims that childhood obesity has hit epidemic levels are “mere speculation”.

The Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), claims that the scale of childhood obesity has been exaggerated and is not supported by evidence. In a report, Obesity and the Facts, the SIRC has called for a major rethink about the reporting of obesity in both adults and children.

It said that while there were certainly more overweight and obese adults and children today than in the 1970-80s, the extent of the problem and the long-term health impacts are often subject to hype and exaggerations. It also says that while it is routinely claimed that there was a rapid acceleration of obesity in children in the 1990s, official survey data simply did not bear this out.

The SIRC analysed data from the Health Survey for England 2003 and looked at children’s average weights. The survey showed that an average 15-year-old boy weighed 9st 7lbs (60.7kg) in 2003, compared with just over 9st 3lbs (58.8kg) in 1995.

For a 15-year-old girl, the average 2003 weight was slightly under at 9st 4lbs (58.9kg) compared with 9st 2lbs (58.5kg) in 1995.

The SIRC report said: “We can conclude from these figures that there have been no significant changes in the average weights of children over nearly a decade. This can be taken as evidence that there has been no epidemic of weight gain, since an epidemic would certainly have affected average weights.”

The survey said that obesity was strongly related to age with males and females in the 16- 24 age group being substantially less at risk of becoming obese than older age groups.

Those aged between 25 and 34 have the second lowest rates of obesity with middle-aged people and those of retirement age being the most at-risk groups.

The SIRC report concluded: “We do no service to the people at risk of obesity-related morbidities in our society by hyping their plight, exaggerating their numbers or diverting limited educational, medical and financial resources away from where the problems really lie.

“Banning advertising of junk food to children and similar measures may be popular in some quarters, but they are unlikely to impact much on the generation of people in their 50s and 60s – those with vastly higher rates of obesity than children and young people.

“The Health Survey for England provides grounds for a serious re-think.”

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