Slim and poor? Fat chance

11/10/16 . Partners

By 2020, it is likely that most boys from poorer families will be overweight or obese.

That is the stark conculsion from findings released to mark World Obesity Day by the Obesity Health Alliance. They estimate that  60% of the most deprived boys aged 5-11 will be overweight or obese by 2020 compared to about 16% of boys in the most affluent group. Interestingly there is no such trend among girls with about 20% predicted to be obese or overweight by the start of the next decade regardless of their family's income levels.

The Obesity Health Alliance say that sugar currently makes up 13% of children’s daily calorie intake. The official recommendation is no more than 5%.

The Alliance is backing the government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy as 'an important step to help make our children healthier'. The Alliance is also calling on food manufacturers to comply with the government’s programme to reduce the sugar in food eaten often by children and wants to see loopholes closed to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing online and on TV.

Robin Ireland, Chief Executive at Health Equalities Group and member of the Obesity Health Alliance was at a loss to explain the gender difference. He said:

'These stats also illustrate an obvious gender gap with boys, especially those from the most deprived areas, much more likely to be obese. Whilst it is difficult to comment on exactly why this happens, there could be a number of reasons including girls usually being more conscious about their physical appearance, and boys being more brand loyal and therefore susceptible to the billions of pounds spent on marketing to children through brand characters and sports stars. Either way, this area needs a lot more attention.'

The Men's Health Forum agrees. CEO Martin Tod said:

This shows how urgent it is that we have a robust childhood obesity strategy that works for boys. Given the size of the challenge that this report suggests we face, there's a real risk that the government's current proposals won't be up to the job.

It also shows why sensitivity to gender is so important in health policy. You can't always predict where the differences are going to be.  The differences in obesity between rich and poor in this model were less of a surprise, but the gap between boys and girls was a shock. Men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women - but not by so much.

Weight-management interventions need to be designed differently if they are going to work for men. If this data is correct, they may need to be designed differently for boys as well.

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