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Prevalence and trends in overweight and obesity in three cross sectional studies of British children, 1974-94

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 06 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:24
  1. Susan Chinn, reader in medical statistics (sue.chinn{at},
  2. Roberto J Rona, professor
  1. Department of Public Health Sciences, King's College London, London SE1 3QD
  1. Correspondence to: S Chinn
  • Accepted 29 September 2000


Objectives: To report trends in overweight and obesity, defined by new internationally agreed cut-off points, in children in the United Kingdom.

Design: Three independent cross sectional surveys.

Setting: Primary schools in England and Scotland.

Participants: 10 414 boys and 9737 girls in England and 5385 boys and 5219 girls in Scotland aged 4 to 11 years.

Main outcome measures: Prevalence and change in prevalence of overweight and obesity, as defined by the international obesity task force, in 1974, 1984, and 1994, for each sex and country.

Results: Little change was found in the prevalence of overweight or obesity from 1974 to 1984. From 1984 to 1994 overweight increased from 5.4% to 9.0% in English boys (increase 3.6%, 95% confidence interval 2.3% to 5.0%) and from 6.4% to 10.0% in Scottish boys (3.6%, 1.9% to 5.4%). Values for girls were 9.3% to 13.5% (4.1%, 2.4% to 5.9%) and 10.4% to 15.8% (5.4%, 3.2% to 7.6%), respectively. The prevalence of obesity increased correspondingly, reaching 1.7% (English boys), 2.1% (Scottish boys), 2.6% (English girls), and 3.2% (Scottish girls).

Conclusion: These results form a base from which trends can be monitored. The rising trends are likely to be reflected in increases in adult obesity and associated morbidity.


  • Funding The national study of health and growth was funded by the Department of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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