Around 1.6 million children in England have started secondary school overweight or obese in the last 10 years, according to Cancer Research UK.
Children who are overweight have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and the charity has warned that obesity could become a “crippling burden on society and the NHS” without appropriate intervention.
These new figures, which mark World Obesity Day, show that 1,654,894 children in England started Year 7 with an unhealthy weight between 2005-2006 and 2014-2015.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “It’s concerning to know that so many children start secondary school – formative years in a child’s life – carrying too much weight.
“We must give children the best chance for a healthy future. Measures like the sugary drinks tax can make a difference and the government must press ahead with this vital measure.”
Earlier this year, the government released its long-delayed childhood obesity strategy, but it was criticised by experts as being “weak” and “embarrassing”.
A widespread complaint of the strategy was that it failed to restrict the advertising of junk food through television, social media and other websites.
Scottish kids ‘more likely’ to be overweight
In Scotland, meanwhile, it was revealed that more than one in 10 children have started primary school overweight or obese in the last 10 years.
Cancer Research UK’s Statistical Information Team found that roughly 83,000 four to five-year-olds entered P1 (the first year of primary school) carrying excess weight between 2005-2006 and 2014-2015.
The charity added that four and five-year-olds in Scotland are “more likely” to be overweight or obese than in other parts of the UK.
Last month, Scotland announced they were launching a nationwide education drive to tackle the rise in type 2 diabetes.
The Scottish government has also insisted that it is making strides to encourage people to eat healthily, and to ensure children are discouraged from eating high-calorie food.
Scotland’s Minister for Public Health Aileen Campbell said: “We have consistently called on the UK government to ban junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed and we are looking at what further effective actions we can take within the powers available to us, including the use of multi-buy promotions, as well as examining a range of actions to improve diet, physical activity and education.
“We are engaging with the food and drink industry on action to offer healthier choices, rebalance promotions, and reformulate products, with a focus on reducing calories, salt, fats and added sugar.”
In Wales, it was shown that more than a quarter of children are either overweight or obese by the time they start primary school.
‘We should be concerned’
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert, said that these figures indicate much more needs to be done to combat obesity in the UK.
“We should be concerned about the picture this paints for the health of the nation as we know that obese children are around five times more likely to become obese adults,” she said.
“Obesity is also linked to 13 types of cancer including bowel, breast and pancreatic. If left unchecked, we run the risk of obesity becoming a crippling burden on society and the NHS.”

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