Are the poor kids really the fat ones?

Obese boy Children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be obese, but was it right for the minister to say it?

Public Health Minister Anna Soubry is no stranger to controversy.

During her four months in the job, she has hit the headlines for comments about "appalling" right-to-die laws and for claiming the government had "screwed up" its reform message.

Now she is back in the spotlight after suggesting you can spot poor children by looking at the size of their waistlines.

According to the plain-speaking Miss Soubry, in years gone by the poor children at school were the "skinny runts".

But as the nation struggles with the obesity epidemic that situation has reversed - with the deprived kids now the fattest, she says.

But is she right?

Well, clearly children from richer backgrounds can be obese, something she herself acknowledged in her comments to the Daily Telegraph when she said her point was more that the greater propensity for obesity lay among the more deprived communities.

And the statistics seem to back her up - to some extent at least.

'Hardly categorical'

The latest figures show that children from the most deprived 10% of backgrounds were nearly twice as likely to be obese.

The data from the government's child measurement programme, which is carried out in primary schools across England, shows that 12.3% of the poorest reception kids were obese, compared to 6.8% from the wealthiest backgrounds.

A similar pattern emerged among year six pupils - the other age group that takes part in the measurement programme - with 24.3% of the most deprived children obese, compared to 13.7% of the least.

Where the waters get a little muddied is with overweight children that are not quite classed as obese.

Again the children from the more deprived backgrounds are the most likely to be overweight, but by a much smaller margin.

In the case of year six pupils the difference is less than one percentage point.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to combine the two groups, overweight and obese.


When you do that you find about four in 10 children from the most deprived backgrounds are carrying excess weight, compared to nearly three in 10 from the richest.

The gap for reception age children is even closer - one in four, compared to just under one in five.

So while Miss Soubry is right, it is hardly categorical.

In fact, when you look at it another way she could have said you are more likely to be a healthy weight and poor just as you are more likely to be a healthy weight and rich.

But, of course, that would not have been newsworthy.

And perhaps that is the point.

As minister for public health she wants to get people talking and thinking about lifestyle issues.

But has she gone about it the right way?

Experts have mixed views on this.

It is unusual these days to find a minister using such colourful language -and there are some who believe it will harm the drive to tackle obesity.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, says it is an "insult" to people on low incomes who are working hard to provide their children with a healthy diet when the odds are stacked against them.

He believes ministers would do better to take a firmer line with industry.

"The government has to be tougher and set limits to the salt, sugar and fat in foods. We are living in an obesogenic environment where it is harder to make healthier choices. Parents have to feed their children."

There are many people who share Mr Fry's sentiments.

But equally some are pleased to see ministers talking so bluntly.

Prof Alan Maryon-Davis, a former president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, has some sympathy with the suggestion that such comments can stigmatise people.

But he says: "By saying what she did in the way she said it she got attention. People start talking about the issue and that is good.

"And it must be remembered she also talked about bad food and industry so I prefer to give her credit."

Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    I'm 69, cycle about 100 miles a week, swim and weight-train twice weekly and walk as much as possible.
    I'm the same weight as I was when I was 21. I've always been active like so many of many generation.
    Being slim and muscular I'm amazingly attractive to women although the size of my pension helps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    I'm afraid this is what happens when the only reason people have kids is so that they can claim benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    230 comment. No they dont their utility bills get paid by our tax. A spud a £1 nonsense,dont buy baking spuds buy nomal same price a kilo. Aldi sell beans 4for£1.08, plus fresh veg cheaper. Work your menu to cheaper veg, making excuses is pathetic & doesnt excuse laziness. Cooking fresh veg is cheaper than ready made without the addatives, something we have always done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Although there is a strong statistical correlation between fatness and social class, people are generally getting fatter including many middle class people. Whereas nurses used to be slim and "fly" around the wards now many are seriously overweight.
    People are eating too much and not taking enough exercise.
    Drive less, cycle and walk more, use public transport and eat more fruit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    No its just laziness in just not cooking proper meals, eyes watching TV too many hour a day on Sky, [we canrt afford sky, I wouldnt want it anyway ] if its so called poor, then are Prescott, AbbottBrown,Balls, I notice Clegg has certainly put on weight. Even at my age we walk. When parents/kids poor/rich wont excercise/eat rubbish then obesity happens, stop trying to make excuses for bad parents

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Our bodies need nutrients, not just calories. If a person is eating high calorie, low nutrient food it follows that they must eat lots of this food to obtain the necessary nutrients - meanwhile the body stores the excess calories as best it can.
    Also, without high levels of quality nutrients the person tends to become 'lazy' because using energy cost the body nutritionally. A very vicious cycle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    MoneyMaster, Your point at #249 is what exactly?
    I'm in my mid 50s, have eaten most, if not all of what's on your list willingly or unknowingly, played football until my mid 40's, only retiring due to a fracture that needed bones screwing together.
    I am not obese, I still walk everywhere, if the distance is less than 3 miles and consider myself reasonably healthy for an Insulin dependent diabetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    Ultimately it's not rich or poor, it's fat lazy parents who just don't care about the health of their own children. That's what creates fat kids.
    They need to take responsibility for their own offsprings be it their health, their upbringing, their education. But they don't. They just pop out a child or 2 and expect others to take the blame when things go wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    The link is laziness. In any other country they would wither away, but here, the taxpayer has to fund their over indulgence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    @31.SC BSc
    typical over used argument which is a total fallacy; how much does beans on toast cost,
    a tin of beans is about 400Kcal, a slice of bread about 80Kcal, (also both have quite a lot of salt) thats quite a lot of calories for something many would see as quite a light meal. others mention pasta, a 100g of pasta is 350Kcal before you add anything to make it into a meal

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    @242 Data on the catchment area of schools will be available. There will be inprecision relating to individual children but it will be a reasonable approximation to the school. As for this article, why can't the BBC pay a professional to do a decent analysis instead of this skim the surface rubbish?

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    HorseMeat Burgers!
    High Fructose Sugary Drinks!
    E-Numbers Loaded - Snacks!
    Chemicals Added Foods!
    Aspartame Rich Chocolate!
    Chemically Preserved So-Called-Meat that has a Shelf life - than the Animal Itself!
    genetically Modified Non-Organic Vegetables!
    Battery non-Free Range Chicken / eggs !
    Donkey Kong Salami!
    Vile Chemical Children Confectionaries!
    No Real Agriculture AnyMore!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Lazy parents = fat children

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Obesity is due to not having as much money to spend on quality ingredients. Obviously the majority on here do not know what life is like when you are unemployed and only have £15 a week to spend on food. You end up eating frozen crap because it's all you can afford.

    Talk of neglect is ignorance bordering on insanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    I never eat in Macdonalds, KFC, BurgerKing or the like because it's way more expensive than buying fresh fruit and veg and preparing it myself. Isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    I'm getting a little tired of these "lazy fat people don't exercise" comments. Back when I was a kid long ago nobody I met was fat. We had no gyms, no sports fields and no jogging tracks. I spent my days behind a desk with 40 other kids; my mother stood all day at a kitchen sink or table; my father pressed buttons all day. We lived on cheap carbohydrates. "Education" has nothing to say about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Children do Food Technology at school.It should not be a compulsory GCSE though.Businesses in general should not be so greedy with their profits on fruit & veg but neither am I saying they should give them away free.After all every little helps!

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    @240, 238 - that's my point exactly. We have a Greggs every 5 minutes offering tat for £1 (wouldn't touch with a barge pole) and 'cheap' veg multi deals aren't cheap if you have a weekly income, veg tends to goes off before used. I stand by my previous post, Home Ec should be compulosry - budgetting, cooking and basic household skills.. I'm amazed that some kids only know how to use a microwave..

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Very interesting indeed how they get these statistics..... I am a school nurse and we measure the children for the NCMP. We submit only the raw height and weight data to them, nothing about measures of poverty for each child so how have they come up with these stats?? Plucked out of thin air or generalised from local data? Very imprecise science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Fat kids are not down to poverty, it is down to negligent parenting.


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