The number of young children who are classed as obese has risen to a record high in the last year, according to new NHS figures, reigniting fears over the growing obesity crisis.

The prevalence of obesity has risen from 9.1 percent in 2014/15 to 9.3 percent in 2015/16 for children in reception and from 19.1 percent to 19.8 percent for those in year six, show data from the National Child Measurement Programme, England, published by NHS Digital.

More than one in three children (34.2 percent) in year 6 was either overweight or obese in 2015-16, compared to 22.1 percent in reception year, and the figures also show that obesity prevalence for children in reception living in the most deprived areas (12.5 percent) was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas (5.5 percent), further highlighting health inequalities.

"Our nation has hit a devastating record high for childhood obesity," said Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's director of prevention. The trend over the last decade is showing no signs of slowing down, and this worrying news is something that could have been prevented with more government action".

The Government's long-awaited childhood obesity plan was unveiled in August, but came under fire for being a watered-down strategy that critics said will fail to adequately tackle the rising trend in the country.

It had been hoped that the plan would follow recommendations from Public Health England, particularly curbs on junk food advertising and multi-buy promotions to help address the crisis, but neither featured in the strategy, which instead focused on the introduction of a soft drinks industry levy on producers and importers across the UK, and a sugar reduction programme in foods.

Stark reminder
"These latest statistics act as a stark reminder as to just how serious the UK's obesity problem is. With over a fifth of reception children overweight or obese and a third of children in year six - a rise from last year's figures, it is not an understatement to say we are entering a state of emergency," said Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, commenting on the new data.

"We cannot afford for the next generation of children to continue on this trajectory. Obesity is already costing the NHS over £6bn - a figure it can ill afford - thanks to the development of conditions like Type Two Diabetes and asthma, all of which we are seeing much earlier. This of course has a knock-on effect on NHS resources".

He urged the government to urgently start planning further actions to prevent childhood obesity, including restrictions on junk food advertising before 9pm "to protect children from direct marketing" and educating children from a young age "on what constitutes as a nutritious meal so positive lifestyle choices are instilled early".