The proportion of four and five-year-olds who are obese is more than double in the most deprived areas than the least deprived, figures from the National Child Measurement Programme have shown.
Doctors warned that action is needed to tackle child poverty after figures highlighted the stark differences in obesity between the most and least deprived areas of the country.
By the time children get to the last year of primary school, 31.3% are living with obesity in the most deprived areas compared with 13.5% in the least deprived, figures from 2021/22 show.
Levels of severe obesity in reception aged children are three times higher in the most deprived areas of England and four times higher by year 6, NHS Digital said.
But there has been a drop off in rates of obesity after a spike during the main year of the pandemic, the figures showed.
For reception-aged children, rates had been steady since 2006/07 but then leapt from 9.9% to 14.4% in 2020/21 before falling back to 10.1% in the past year.
A similar pattern was seen in year 6 children with obesity rates rising from 21% to 25.5% at the height of the pandemic and then falling to 23.4% this year – still higher than pre-pandemic levels, the figures showed.
For both age groups the prevalence of obesity is highest in those living in urban areas.
Dr Helen Stewart, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health officer for health improvement, said the data reaffirmed the intrinsic link between obesity and poverty.
‘We now find ourselves in a situation where our most vulnerable children are twice as likely to become obese, and subsequently be at a higher risk of chronic illnesses, mental health issues and even a shorter life span.
‘It’s inherently wrong that these children can be placed at such a disadvantage before even leaving primary school. These rampant health inequalities can no longer be ignored.
She added that the RCPCH was calling on the new health secretary to reinforce the preventive anti-obesity policies which were recently rumoured to be at risk of being scrapped.
‘We also ask that there be a renewed focus in tackling child poverty and deprivation.
‘Concrete action, such as expanding free school meals, increased financial support for families struggling with rising inflation and publishing the Health Disparities White Paper can make all the difference here.’
Earlier this year the Government revealed it is planning to ask GPs to prescribe healthy food as part of its ‘levelling up’ programme.
However, Therese Coffey had during her short tenure as health secretary reportedly decided against publishing the inequality white paper.