More than one in seven Scottish five-year-olds is clinically obese or overweight when they start school, new figures have revealed.
Official statistics for the 2014-15 school year show 14.9 per cent of primary one (P1) pupils sparked concern over their weight, with higher rates in Scotland’s most deprived communities.
Childhood obesity is a “ticking timebomb” which can lead to a swathe of health concerns in later life, such as heart disease, diabetes and increased risk of certain cancers, according to health campaigners.
Ministers hailed the news as an improvement on last year’s figure of 15.6 per cent but opposition groups pointed out that progress has been mostly static since 2005.
Lorraine Tulloch, programme lead at Obesity Action Scotland, said: “We cannot be complacent. Childhood obesity is a ticking timebomb which puts children at risk of future health issues such as type 2 diabetes. 1 in 5 children in Scotland are at risk of suffering health challenges now and in their future, all because of their weight. We need to do much more to reduce childhood obesity and overweight and we must urgently improve the diet of Scottish children.”
Shetland had the highest number of obese youngsters, followed by Dundee City at 18.7 per cent and North Ayshire at 18 per cent. Cities such as Stirling and Glasgow fare better.
The proportion of boys classed as clinically overweight was 15.1 per cent, compared to 14.6 per cent of girls.
Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “The SNP seem to be painting this as an achievement but the statistics tell a completely different story. 1 in 7 children in primary remain clinically obese and that is a major worry for parents and teachers, as well as for our hard-pressed health services.
“Some of these statistics reflect poor diet but they also reflect lifestyles which do not involve nearly enough exercise. The Scottish Conservatives want to see more health visitors working with children up to the age of seven so problems are not only spotted earlier but continue to be addressed in the first two years of primary school.”
Separate figures show the number of children classed as having a healthy weight rose to 77.1 per cent from 76.4 per cent. The number of children at risk of being underweight was just over 1 per cent.
Public health minister Maureen Watt said: “It’s encouraging to see that the percentage of healthy weight children has increased since last year, and those at risk of being overweight has decreased.
“We will continue to take action on a range of fronts to continue this trend and reduce childhood obesity further.
“Obesity is a notable public health issue in most of western Europe, and Scotland is no exception. The Scottish Government is committed to addressing it by taking action to improve diets and encourage physical activity.”
Work is ongoing into reformulation programmes to make food and drink healthier as well as campaigns to encourage healthy eating, she added.