Leeds doctor links 'frightening' child obesity figures to fast food outlets in deprived areas
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Dr John Beal, who chairs the city’s Healthwatch group, claimed fast food outlets in deprived areas of Leeds could be partly to blame for the epidemic. The latest available government data suggests 25.1 per cent of local 10 and 11 year-olds are clinically obese, above the national average of 23.4 per cent.
Around one in ten reception age pupils are also significantly overweight, though health officials say rates among very young children have dropped in recent months from a record high post-pandemic. Quoting a report on the issue at a health scrutiny meeting on Tuesday, Dr Beal said: “Children in Year 6 have, already at that stage, quite frightening really, levels of obesity.
"And then you come to the very young children – the primary school children going into school – and even then, they have a level of obesity which is quite frightening. Leeds is more active than other places, but obviously a lack of health lifestyles is one factor. Diet must also be a factor.”
In response, Leeds’ director of public health Victoria Eaton, said the obesity rates among reception-age children had “significantly improved” following a “remarkable jump” during the pandemic. She added that Year 6 rates are, “moving slightly in the wrong direction, but it’s more positive than it could have been when we look at what’s happened overall.”
“We’ve got long-term challenges around all-age healthy weight and obesity,” she told the meeting. “As a council we’ve recognised there’s a lot of factors that play into that. There’s no single magic bullet, whether it’s around access to gyms or leisure facilities, or if we do great things like we’re doing through our food strategy. Through the pandemic we’re also seeing an increased proportion of underweight children and young people and adults as well.”
Over the last decade the council has sought to restrict the opening of new takeaways in certain areas where there already high volumes of fast food. The cumulative impact zone makes it harder for businesses to get a licence allowing them to serve food after 11pm.
But Dr Beal said: “Sadly, and I might be wrong here, but it seems to me many of the fast food outlets are in some of the most deprived areas of the city. There is clearly a relationship there (to obesity).”