Objective: Previous data indicate a rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity and overweight among English children and an emerging socioeconomic gradient in prevalence. The main aim of this study was to update the prevalence trends among school-age children and assess the changing socioeconomic gradient.
Design: A series of nationally representative household-based health surveys conducted between 1997 and 2007 in England.
Subjects: 15 271 white children (7880 boys) aged 5 to 10 years with measured height and weight.
Measurements: Height and weight were directly measured by trained fieldworkers. Overweight (including obesity) and obesity prevalence were calculated using the international body mass index cut-offs. Socioeconomic position (SEP) score was a composite score based on income and social class. Multiple linear regression assessed the prevalence odds with time point (1997/8, 2000/1, 2002/3, 2004/5, 2006/7) as the main exposure. Linear interaction terms of time by SEP were also tested for.
Results: There are signs that the overweight and obesity trend has levelled off from 2002/3 to 2006/7. The odds ratio (OR) for overweight in 2006/7 compared with 2002/3 was 0.99 (95% CI 0.88-1.11) and for obesity OR = 1.06 (0.86-1.29). The socioeconomic gradient has increased in recent years, particularly in 2006/7. Compared to 1997/8, the 2006/7 age and sex-adjusted OR for overweight was 1.88 (1.52 to 2.33) in low-SEP, 1.25 (1.04 to 1.50) in middle-SEP, and 1.13 (0.86 to 1.48) in high-SEP children.
Conclusion: Childhood obesity and overweight prevalence among school-age children in England has stabilized in recent years, but children from lower socio-economic strata have not benefited from this trend. There is an urgent need to reduce socio-economic disparities in childhood overweight and obesity.