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Childhood obesity inequalities in Britain are increasing over time

Across most high-income countries in the world socioeconomic inequalities in childhood obesity have been well documented. However, it is not clear how they have changed over time. Using Britain as an example, this study published in The Lancet, investigated how socioeconomic inequalities in childhood and adolescent weight, height, and BMI have changed over time.

The analyses demonstrated that from 1953 to 2015 socioeconomic associated inequalities in childhood obesity emerged and widened, while height differences became narrower. In 2001, at age 11 a there was a difference of 1.40 kg at the 50th weight percentile whereas a difference of 4.88 kg was observed at the 90th weight percentile. This finding that relative socioeconomic inequalities in obesity are worsening is consistent with other cross-sectional evidence including the UK’s national measurement program.

These significant changes show the impact of social changes on child and adolescent growth and development. The increasingly obesogenic environments in societies disproportionately affects disadvantaged children. These findings illustrate that the numerous policy initiatives implemented in Britain since 1991 have been insufficient and ineffective.

As these inequalities continue to widen there is clearly a need for new approaches to reduce differences in rates of childhood obesity between advantaged and disadvantaged populations. These trends are similar in many countries globally. Without effective interventions, inequalities seen in childhood and adolescence will continue to widen further throughout adulthood with significant health consequences.

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