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Report finds achieving childhood healthy weight requires ‘urgent & bold’ action

23 Feb 2024
Children who experienced food insecurity at a young age were four times more likely to experience persistent obesity from the start of primary school up to age 14 than children who did not experience food insecurity, according to a new report by Obesity Action Scotland and the University of Glasgow.

The report analysed data collected using the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) cohort of children, which has followed a group of Scottish children since they were ten months old.  

The report found that:

  • Half of GUS children were a healthy weight when measured at three time points during childhood (four, 11 and 14 years-old).
  • Based on the experiences of GUS children, it is likely that at least half of Scottish children today will be overweight or experience obesity by the age of 14 years-old.  
  • The prevalence of overweight and obesity increased from 25% at age four to 37% at age 14.
  • This was mainly driven by increases in obesity, which rose from 10% to 22%.  
  • Poverty and other aspects of social disadvantage, including area deprivation, circumstances of the parent(s), food insecurity and a range of other, often co-existing factors, amplify the risk of experiencing obesity.

Lorraine Tulloch, programme lead of Obesity Action Scotland, commented: “Children trust us to do the best for them. As a nation we need to ensure they have easy and reliable access to food that can promote their health. We need to put healthy food centre stage and within everyone’s reach.

“This report highlights that the consequences of food insecurity go way beyond the short-term impact that we are all already acutely aware of. I hope that this report will add to the valuable evidence we have on childhood health and will provide an urgent incentive for action. We can turn this around with brave and bold policy to tackle social disadvantage and improve food environments.”

Obesity Action Scotland was established in 2015 to provide clinical leadership and independent advocacy on preventing and reducing overweight and obesity in Scotland.

Report author Dr Anna Pearce, senior research fellow at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, added: “Tackling child poverty and disadvantage in the early years is essential if we are to avoid further rises in childhood obesity and prevent widening health inequalities in future generations of adults. Food insecurity, which is far higher now than it was when the GUS children were growing up, is one area for urgent action.”