Who would have thought that today poor children are fatter than well-to-do kids? Apparently it is now an acknowledged fact that because of the rise of cheap junk food and sedentary lifestyles, the trend has been turned on its head a study has found. For years rich parents had portly children, while those growing up poor were much thinner.

But in the decades since the Second World War, disadvantaged children have become more likely than their richer peers to be overweight or obese. A study by University College, London, tracked more than 56,000 children born in England, Scotland and Wales in 1946, 1958, 1970 and 2001, and looked at how the height and weight of children and teenagers changed between the post war years and 2016. The participants’ socioeconomic status was determined by using what their fathers did for a living. The researchers found that while children with poorer backgrounds used to be shorter, they have narrowed the gap thanks to the easy availability and affordability of food. However their unhealthier lifestyles have seen their body mass index (BMI) score increase.

Lead author Dr David Bann blamed the considerable changes to diet and physical activity levels since the post-war years, adding that the study showed previous policies to reduce childhood obesity have not worked. ‘Without effective interventions, childhood BMI inequalities are likely to widen further throughout adulthood, leading to decades of adverse health and economic consequences,’ he said. ‘Bold action is needed such as creating further incentives for food manufacturers to reduce sugar and fat content in food and drink, reduce the advertising of unhealthy food to children and families and incentivize the sale of healthier alternatives.’

In the post-war years, poorer 11-year-olds were an average of 4.4lbs (2 kilograms) lighter than their wealthy peers, while poor children born most recently weighed 4.6 lbs. (2.1 kilograms) more than those who are better off. The weight difference increased with age, according to the study, published in the Lancet Public Health Journal.

It found the poorest children still tend to be shorter, but the difference has narrowed in 7-year-olds from 3.9 centimetres in 1946 to 1.2 centimetres in 2001. A third of children in the UK are overweight or obese by age 11, and the rates are creeping up despite government vows to tackle the crisis. The researchers warn that without drastic action to curb sugar and fat content in food, the widening gap will only get worse.

Dan Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The study shows the least advantaged were adopting the least healthy lifestyles.’ He added: ‘The end of rationing – and simply more food – enabled the poorest substantially to catch up in height. The downside is that their staple diet has become progressively worse. The researchers are quite correct to call for a sea change if further obesity is to be avoided in depressed areas.’

Obesity in Britain is becoming a real problem. Everywhere you go you see a large percentage of far-too-fat men and women looking rather unattractive and off-putting.

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