OBESITY rates are continuing to climb amongst children in the north east of Scotland’s more deprived communities, while they are falling elsewhere in the area.
And the North Sea oil boom, centred on Aberdeen, may have played a part in the changes in the height, weight and obesity measurements of children in the area, according to a study based on almost 40 years of medical records carried out by experts at Aberdeen University.
The new study is based on the analysis of 36 years of data for children when they were aged five and six.
Researchers examined the height, weight and obesity trends of almost 195,000 five to six year olds born between 1970 and 2006. The height and weights had been routinely collected between 1975 and 2011 by school nurses from children whilst in their first year at primary schools in north east Scotland.
And it shows that obesity rates are now generally falling - except in more deprived communities where obesity levels continue to clim. Excessive weight gain also appears to be more prevalent amongst boys from poorer backgrounds.
Dr Steve Turner, a senior clinical lecturer in Child Health at the university, said: “Our study examined trends in height, weight, body mass index, and obesity from 1975 to the present day and by looking at school rolls we know we have captured measurement from at least 80 per cent of all five to six year old children from the Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray areas of north east Scotland.
“We found a fall in obesity rates among children born in the early 1970s - this was a time when height but not weight was increasing. Weight began to rise more quickly than height for children born between the late 1970s and 1998 and therefore obesity went up.
“While the fall in obesity for those born between 1998 and 2006 is welcome, obesity prevalence is still more than four times higher that it was a generation ago and obesity is continuing to rise among the less affluent communities.”
He said that the researchers had not set out to explain the reasons for the changes in height, weight and obesity measurements. But they speculate that Aberdeen’s oil boom of the 1970s may have played a part.
Said Dr Turner: “We didn’t set out to establish the reasons for changes seen but it has been suggested elsewhere that ‘growth is a mirror of the conditions of society.’
“The discovery of oil in the North Sea in the early 1970s resulted in increasing affluence and high levels of employment across the Northeast of Scotland which persists to this day and this may have had implication for changes in height and weight for children born in the latter 1970s and onwards.”
He added: “Meanwhile the reduction seen in weight and body mass index in children born after 1998 may be in part due to public health initiatives promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles.”
According to the study, obesity prevalence initially fell for birth years 1970 to 1977, when height was increasing. Obesity then rose between 1977 and 1998 before falling for those born between 1998 and 2006
Obesity was initially highest in girls and most affluent communities, but became most prevalent among boys and least affluent communities.
The study has been published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.