obese boy drinking soft drink

The Obesity Health Alliance is calling on food manufacturers to reduce sugar in food and drinks aimed at young people

Boys living in England’s most deprived areas are far more likely to be obese than those in the most affluent, with consumption of too much sugar a key cause, according to a new study released today.

Figures released by the Obesity Health Alliance show a looming weight gap between the poorest and wealthiest primary school-aged boys.

It shows 60% of five to 11 year-old boys in the most deprived areas are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2020, compared with about one in six (16%) of boys in the most affluent group.

The most deprived girls did not show the same trend and are projected to have similar obese and overweight prevalence rates to their more affluent counterparts with an average of one in five girls predicted to be obese or overweight by 2020.

Eating or drinking too much sugar was cited as a key reason for consuming extra calories, with the ingredient making up 13% of children’s daily calorie intake, compared with the government’s official recommendation of no more than 5%.

The alliance, which is made up of 30 health groups including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association and Cancer Research UK, said the research, carried out by the UK Health Forum, showed why the government should press head with plans for a sugar levy on soft drinks.

But it also called on food manufacturers to comply with the government’s programme to reduce the sugar in food eaten often by children and called for “loopholes” to be closed to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing online and on TV.

“These stats also illustrate an obvious gender gap with boys, especially those from the most deprived areas, much more likely to be obese,” said Robin Ireland, chief executive at Health Equalities Group and member of the Obesity Health Alliance.

“From a young age, children are developing a taste for high sugar, salt and fatty foods that is difficult to break once established and as a nation, we all have a responsibility to help shape children’s diets. Sugary drink consumption levels tend to be highest among the most disadvantaged children who are hit hardest by obesity and tooth decay. The health gains from the soft drinks industry levy will be biggest for our most deprived children.”

Diabetes UK chief executive Chris Askew said: “Not taking action now will result in the NHS forking out monumental amounts of money for largely preventable conditions. This is why it’s so important to implement the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, manufacture healthier food, and close the loopholes of junk food marketing to children today, so our future health, workforce and NHS can stand a chance tomorrow.”