Intended for healthcare professionals

News News Analysis

What’s behind reduced child obesity in Leeds?

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 03 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2045


Leeds—the first UK city to lower child obesity?

  1. Jacqui Thornton
  1. London

Newspapers and researchers are eager to credit a parenting programme, but are they premature? Jacqui Thornton investigates

The city of Leeds in Yorkshire, UK, was roundly congratulated on 1 May with the news that it had succeeded in cutting the prevalence of childhood obesity—a feat achieved only by a few other cities, such as Amsterdam.1

A paper in Pediatric Obesity analysing figures from England’s National Child Measurement Programme over 2009-17 found that the proportion of children entering primary school (ages 4 and 5) who were obese fell from 9.4% in 2009-10 to 8.8% in 2016-17.2

The reduction was chiefly among the most deprived children—from 11.5% to 10.5% over the period—where the problem is worst, but also occurred among affluent children (6.8% to 6.0%). In terms of numbers, the results equated to 625 fewer reception class children who were obese in 2016-17 than in 2009-10.

No similar reduction in obesity was seen in other cities or England as a whole. In older children, at year 6 (ages 10 and 11), prevalence of obesity was unchanged in Leeds but increased elsewhere.

One of the authors, Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences in Oxford, presented the “startling” research at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow to great acclaim. “Everybody is going around saying Amsterdam is doing something amazing. Well, actually, Leeds is too,” she told the congress.

Obesity strategy

Jebb said the team did not know exactly what made the difference in …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription