Toddlers and young children are being treated for high blood pressure, diabetes and knee-joint problems as a damning result of the nation’s obesity crisis, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The numbers of youngsters having treatment for conditions usually seen in middle-aged adults has soared in the last decade.
Hospital appointments for diabetes where obesity is a factor have more than doubled since 2014, and there are similar figures for youngsters with high blood pressure.
Doctors have also seen sharp increases in the number of children with weight-related knee damage and gallstones, NHS figures reveal. In addition, appointments for sleep apnoea – where the airway becomes obstructed often because someone is overweight – have rocketed.
Ministers have pledged to halve childhood obesity rates by 2030. But more than a fifth of children are now overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to almost four in ten by the time they leave for secondary school.
Diabetes appointments where obesity is a factor have soared since 2014 (file image)
DAILY MAIL COMMENT: NHS alone won’t beat this obesity epidemic
Terrifying figures compiled by the charity Diabetes UK show that every week the condition is responsible for around 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and 2,300 cases of heart failure (File image)
‘These figures are a damning indictment of this country’s obesity crisis, which is a national disgrace,’ said Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.
NHS data reveals that there were 192 appointments for children with diabetes in 2021, almost three times the number in 2014. This included 22 children under the age of four. Experts warn that when type 2 diabetes occurs in children, it is far more aggressive than in adults.
Knee problems, such as ligament damage, doubled in less than a decade among children aged between 12 and 17, rising from 31 in 2014 to 60 last year.
And the number of teenagers having hospital appointments for gallstones – often fuelled by obesity – doubled to 500 last year, compared to 245 in 2014.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of both Action On Salt and Action On Sugar, accused the Government of ‘abandoning attempts to prevent obesity’ due to lobbying by corporate food giants.
‘Many children are still consuming far too much junk food which is loaded with salt, sugar and calories,’ he said.
Last night, Professor Russ Jago, a public health expert at Bristol University, said school sports facilities and gyms should remain open ‘on evenings, weekends or school holidays’. A study he led found that just four in ten children aged ten to 11 were doing the recommended one hour of exercise each day.
Doctors say the number of children with weight-related knee damage is also increasing
‘We know that activity has a role to play in obesity but we also know that kids who are active tend to be happier, have better social skills and there’s some evidence of a link to academic achievement,’ he said.
His research found children did just as much sport and playing as before the pandemic. But they were also spending more time sitting down at home, which would correspond with increased use of computer tablets and phones.
A Government spokesman said £600 million will be spent in the next two years to improve the quality of PE and sports in primary schools, and a further £57 million will be spent to keep school sport facilities open on evenings, weekends and holidays.