Overweight children

Published

1. Main facts and figures

  • in 2017/18, an estimated 22.4% of children aged 4 to 5 in England were overweight, a similar percentage to 2016/17 (22.6%)
  • in 2017/18, the percentage of children aged 10 to 11 who were overweight was 34.3%, a similar percentage to 2016/17 (34.2%)
  • in the 4 to 5 age group, almost a third (30.8%) of Black African children were overweight in 2017/18, the highest proportion of any ethnic group
  • in the 10 to 11 age group, 46% of Black African children were overweight, the highest proportion of any ethnic group
Things you need to know

The data is collected through the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP). Children can opt out of participating, however, the opt out rate is fairly low and the impact on the data is thought to be minimal.

Bear in mind that the trends shown in the data may not extend beyond the time series of this analysis.

The commentary only shows differences that have been tested and shown to be statistically significant. Differences are statistically significant if the results for the 2 groups or time periods being compared are within entirely different ranges.

The data only includes children in participating state schools. Independent and special schools are excluded from this analysis.

What the data measures

This data measures the percentage of children who are overweight in two age groups:

  • reception year (when children are usually aged 4 to 5 years)
  • year 6 (when children are usually aged 10 to 11 years)

A child is defined as overweight based on their body mass index (BMI), which is measured using their weight, height, age and sex.

Each child’s BMI is compared to a large sample of other children known as the ‘reference population’, and the child is placed in a ‘percentile’ (100 increments from lowest to highest BMI).

A child is classed as overweight if they are in the 85th percentile or above – that is, 85% of the reference population has a lower BMI. The main thresholds indicating an unhealthy weight are:

  • second percentile or lower - underweight
  • 85th percentile or higher - overweight
  • 95th percentile or higher - obese

Estimates are based on measurements of children in the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) in participating schools in England in academic years 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18.

There is a different way of defining overweight adults.

The ethnic categories used in this data

The 16 categories used in this data are from the 2001 census. The categories are broadly the same as those used in the 2011 census, with the following exceptions:

  • the 2001 census categorised Chinese people within 'Other ethnic group'
  • the 2001 census did not list Gypsy and Irish Travellers or Arab people

The 2001 categories are therefore as follows:

White:

  • British (English/ Welsh/ Scottish/ Northern Irish)
  • Irish
  • Any other White background

Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups:

  • White and Black Caribbean
  • White and Black African
  • White and Asian
  • Any other Mixed/Multiple ethnic background

Asian/Asian British:

  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Any other Asian background

Black/African/Caribbean/Black British:

  • Black African
  • Black Caribbean
  • Any other Black/African/Caribbean background

Other ethnic group:

  • Chinese
  • Any other ethnic group

2. By ethnicity

Percentage of 4 to 5 year olds and 10 to 11 year olds by ethnicity who were overweight in 2014/15 to 2017/18
2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Ethnicity 4 to 5 year olds (%) 10 to 11 year olds (%) 4 to 5 year olds (%) 10 to 11 year olds (%) 4 to 5 year olds (%) 10 to 11 year olds (%) 4 to 5 year olds (%) 10 to 11 year olds (%)
All 21.9 33.2 22.1 34.2 22.6 34.2 22.4 34.3
Asian
Bangladeshi 21.6 43.0 20.3 42.7 21.4 44.3 20.7 43.9
Indian 14.9 35.1 14.5 36.3 14.9 36.7 13.8 36.5
Pakistani 19.8 39.1 19.2 40.6 20.2 40.6 20.4 40.2
Asian other 19.4 38.6 19.6 38.2 19.3 40.8 19.7 38.8
Black
Black African 30.8 44.8 31.2 45.9 31.1 46.2 30.8 46.0
Black Caribbean 24.7 43.1 25.2 45.3 25.3 45.4 25.2 44.2
Black other 28.7 43.4 28.4 41.6 27.9 43.9 28.1 43.0
Mixed
Mixed White/Asian 15.6 29.4 16.2 30.1 15.7 29.6 15.5 29.7
Mixed White/Black African 28.6 39.6 26.7 40.3 28.3 39.6 27.7 41.5
Mixed White/Black Caribbean 25.5 39.5 24.9 39.4 25.9 40.1 25.4 40.3
Mixed other 22.1 35.2 22.0 36.7 21.7 34.2 20.5 35.1
White
White British 22.1 31.3 22.4 31.9 22.9 31.6 22.7 31.9
White Irish 23.8 31.8 24.7 32.8 26.6 33.3 23.7 31.7
White other 20.7 35.1 20.4 36.2 20.9 36.0 20.7 35.8
Other inc Chinese
Chinese 17.3 29.8 17.1 30.2 15.8 33.9 18.3 30.1
Any other 23.2 39.1 23.8 40.6 22.9 40.7 23.5 39.6

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity’ (CSV)

Summary

  • in 2017/18, on average 22.4% of children in England aged 4 to 5 years, and 34.3% of those aged 10 to 11 years, were overweight
  • between 2014/15 and 2017/18, the percentage of children aged 4 to 5 who were overweight increased from 21.9% to 22.4%
  • in the same period, the percentage of children aged 10 to 11 who were overweight increased from 33.2% to 34.3%
  • the percentage of White British children aged 4 to 5 who were overweight increased from 22.1% in 2014/15 to 22.7% in 2017/18
  • the percentage of overweight children aged 4 to 5 decreased in 2 ethnic groups between 2014/15 and 2017/18: Any other mixed background (from 22.1% to 20.5%) and Indian (from 14.9% to 13.8%)
  • in the 10-11 year old group, the percentage of White British children who were overweight increased from 31.3% in 2014/15 to 31.9% in 2017/18 - for changes shown in all other ethnic groups, the number of children measured was too small to draw firm conclusions
  • in both age groups, Black African children were the most likely to be overweight in 2017/18, with almost a third (30.8%) of those in the 4 to 5 age group overweight, and 46% of those in the 10 to 11 age group overweight
  • in every ethnic group, a higher percentage of children aged 10 to 11 were overweight compared with children aged 4 to 5

3. Methodology

Launched in 2005/06, the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures over one million children each year and is a valuable source of data on childhood obesity.

The data only includes children in state-maintained schools that participated in the programme. In 2017/18 there were 1,187,009 participants, with 5% of pupils opting out.

Measurements of height and weight are collected from children in reception (ages 4 to 5) and year 6 (ages 10 to 11), primarily in state-maintained schools in England. This data is then used to calculate the percentage of overweight children. Be aware that although the figures provided are reliable estimates, it is impossible to be 100% certain of the true percentage.

Confidence intervals: Confidence intervals for each ethnic group are available if you download the data.

Based on the NCMP measurements, it is estimated that 22.4% of children aged 4 to 5 and 34.3% of children aged 10 to 11 were overweight in England in 2017/18.

It is 95% certain, however, that somewhere between 22.3% and 22.5% of all 4 to 5 year olds and 34.2% and 34.4% of all 10 to 11 year olds were overweight in 2017/18. In statistical terms, this is a 95% confidence interval. This means that if 100 random samples were taken from the total population of school age children in England, then 95 times out of 100 the estimate would fall between the upper and lower confidence interval. But 5 times out of 100 it would fall outside this range.

The smaller the size of the population, the less certain the estimate and the wider the confidence interval. For example, there are fewer Chinese children in state schools in England than White British children, so we can be less certain about the estimate for this group. A wider confidence interval expresses this greater uncertainty. So, in 2017/18 between 17.0% and 19.6% of Chinese children aged 4 to 5 were overweight. Statistically significant findings have been determined when compared to the England average where the 95% confidence intervals of an ethnic group do not overlap with the England value.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

England totals include all children in state-maintained schools, with a valid height and weight measurement, including those with an unknown residency.

Rounding

Figures have been rounded to one decimal point.

Quality and methodology information

Further technical information

National Child Measurement Programme

National Child Measurement Programme archives

4. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

Public Health England

Publication frequency

Yearly

Purpose of data source

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of children in reception class (aged 4 to 5 years) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11 years) to assess overweight and obesity levels in children within primary schools. This data can be used at a national level to support local public health initiatives and inform the local planning and delivery of services for children.

Secondary source

Type of data

Administrative data

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

NHS Digital

Publication frequency

Yearly

Purpose of data source

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of children in Reception class (aged 4 to 5) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11), to assess overweight and obesity levels in children within primary schools.

5. Download the data

Overweight children - Spreadsheet (csv) 15 KB

This file contains the following: ethnicity, year, age group, value, numerator, denominator and confidence intervals