Exploring the Link Between Poverty and Childhood Obesity in the UK

  • 09 Pages
  • Published On: 20-11-2023

Obesity is the health condition in which a person accumulates excess body fats which increase the BMI (Body Mass Index) of that person (more than 30 kg/m). BMI is the measurement that is obtained by dividing the body weight of a person by square of a person's height. If a person has BMI within a range of 25-30 kg/m the person is considered as overweight and if BMI exceeds 30 kg/m then the person is considered as obese. Childhood obesity has become a major health issue in the UK in recent years. The rate of obesity and overweight in children has been increased by nearly three-fold since 1980. Evidence suggests that income inequality acts as the facilitator in developing obesity and overweight in which poorer children are three times more prevalent to these health conditions as compared to their richer peers. In this context, the topic selected for this essay is highly relevant which will provide new insight into the fact that why poorer children are more obese and overweight in the UK. This essay is going to determine the factors that make poorer children more vulnerable to obesity and overweight than richer children. Additionally, the essay will also evaluate the links between poverty and obesity that enhance the prevalence of obesity and overweight among poorer children in the UK.


The evidence-based report suggests that income inequality and poverty are strongly associated with developing obesity and overweight in people (Poh et al. 2019). Children belong to the poorer family in the UK are more vulnerable to obesity as well as overweight as compared to richer children, due to many factors such as unhealthy lifestyle, lack of nutrition, skipping of meals, insufficient family income, lack of parental support and unhealthy habits. A report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on childhood obesity has shown that poorer children belonging to the age group 5-11 are highly vulnerable to overweight and obesity than the richer children. The report stated that in the case of richer children the early rising, healthy habits, play sports, proper education and eat nutritious meals five times reduces the risk of obesity. In this context, Ahmadizar et al. (2016) argued that in recent years it has been seen that children belonging to high-class society are also prevalent to the high risk of obesity and overweight due to their sedentary lifestyles, excessive eating of junk foods, consumption of fat-enriched foods and irregular as well as improper lifestyles. Evidence shows that unhealthy habits of mothers increase the risk of obesity and overweight in children by 20 %. As mentioned by Poh et al. (2019), women residing in the poorer family are unable to maintain a healthy lifestyle, good habits and healthy nutritional intake which impact indirectly on their children’s health because unhealthy and improper lifestyles and eating habits are also transferred to children leading to their weight gain.

Pieces of evidence demonstrate the factors that increase the vulnerability of poorer children to obesity and overweight. One of the most important drivers of obesity and overweight in poorer children is low income of their parents. As mentioned by Assari (2018), in the UK many families residing in the rural and suburban areas are unable to arrange three times nutritious meals for their children. Evidence suggests that, due to the low income of the family, parents are unable to provide costly nutritious foods to children rather they provide them with low-quality foods that are enriched with unsaturated fats and cholesterol. As argued by West et al. (2018), not only the low quality and cheap foods are the sources of unhealthy fats but also there are many costly and luxurious food which are full of fats, cholesterols which lead to accumulation of body fats in children belonging to a rich family. Report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that incomes inequality not only impacts on eating habits and nutrition of children belonging to the poorer family but also pose adverse impact on the education, health literacy, healthy habits development and lifestyles of these children (WHO, 2019). Most of the children residing in a low-income family in the UK are devoid of proper education, health literacy, healthcare facilities and hygienic environment that also impact badly on their body weight and BMI. Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) in the UK has shown that at the age of 5, poorer children are 6.5% more prevalent to obesity and overweight as compared to their richer peers. The study also has shown that at the age of 11 children belonging to the poorer family are 7.9% more prevalent to obesity.

Evidence suggests that maternity behaviour and environment are considered as a strong facilitator on obesity that has an adverse influence on children’s health and wellbeing. Recent researchers have mentioned that there is a strong link of obesity and overweight in children with the behaviour and environment they receive in their infancy. As mentioned by Lynch et al. (2016), three are many factors that increase the prevalence of obesity and overweight in poor children such as duration of breastfeeding, smoking of pregnant women, behaviours and attitude of mothers towards babies during their post-partum period and health related issues of mothers during pregnancy. Researches have shown that most of the deprived mothers are unable to breastfeed their babies up to 6 months due to many reasons including unsupportiveness of family members, lack of breast milk production, insufficient nutrition and poor physical and mental health. According to Landgren et al. (2020), obesity and overweight in children rooted in the way they are nurtured after the birth and the nutrition they get from their mothers. Report of WHO has shown that in many poor families residing in the rural and suburban areas of UK, mothers are reported to be unable to breastfeed their babies for sufficient period as they need to go for work to support economically their family, which pose an adverse impact on the development of the metabolic and digestive system in babies in early years leading to obesity and overweight in children. As mentioned by Hemmingsson (2018), compared to mothers in poorer families the mothers belonging to higher income family get more privileges and facilities after their delivery such as they can afford the nurses or home carers to support the breastfeeding mothers in different way that enable mothers and babies to get enough nutrition and physical support. Critics have argued in this context that, there are cases in which mothers from richer society are also unable to breastfeed their babies for sufficient time and cannot provide that much support and care to the new-born that they need for developing their strong biological system (Ma et al. 2020). The reasons behind this are considered as mother from the high-class society are also busy at their high-profile jobs, parties and social gathering that make them unable to take care of nutrition, healthy habits and good lifestyles of their children. Recent researches have shown that, although there is criticism regarding link between the mothers’ nurturing ability and health behaviour with chances of development of obesity in children, it is acknowledged that, in poorer children, the biological system and metabolic abilities is weaker as compared to their richer peers due to lack of proper nutrition and care they receive during their infancy from their mothers.

Recent evidences suggest that family and society environment are important factors that trigger obesity and overweight in children. As mentioned by Boles et al. (2017), family culture, education of parents, social perception, social behaviour and attitude of society people towards health and well-being are strongly linked with enhancing vulnerability of obesity of children. Pieces of evidence suggest that poorer children belong to such a family and society environment in which people are not concerned about their health and wellbeing as they are busy to arrange the money that is enough to provide three times meals to their family members. Additionally, children residing in the lower-income family do not get the guidance and parental support that they need to develop healthy habits, good eating behaviour, regular lifestyles and proper health literacy (Jang and Lauver, 2019). In this context, children in poorer society are used to eat low-quality foods enriched with unhealthy fats and lack of protein, that enhance acumination of fats into their body thereby making them highly vulnerable to chronic disease. As stated by Boutelle et al. (2019), poorer children are more prevalent to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, pulmonary disease, lung infection and cancer as compared to the richer children. Recent research has mentioned that children from poor family are habituated in unhealthy habits such as skipping breakfasts, going to bed late, eating low quality and unhealth foods, maintaining irregular sleeping pattern and eating less than needed. These unhealthy habits make them more vulnerable to obesity and chronic disease than that of their richer peers.

As mentioned by Poh et al. (2019), poorer children reside in such society and family in which that is lack of proper health literacy and education, which makes parents unable to know proper eating habits, importance of healthy lifestyles and the right choice of foods. Critics have argued that, in many rich families, despite having good academic quantification parents can not make the right selection of foods and habits that makes their children overweight and obese. Evidence-based studied has shown that, except some exceptional cases, in most of the poor family the main reason of children develop unhealthy eating habits and irregular lifestyle is the ignorance of society and family members regarding the process of being healthy and fit. As mentioned by Ahmadizar et al. (2016), due to the lack of education and health literacy, parents in poorer family can not choose the right foods that are cost worthy and healthy for their children such as seasonal fruits and vegetables. Additionally, ignorance about healthy lifestyle and habits makes children belonging to poor family to do not get the guidance and training from their family that are important to develop healthy body and mind such as regular exercise, early rising and an early bedtime.

For reducing the vulnerability of poorer children to obesity and overweight the UK government has taken several initiatives such as improving health literacy in a poor and low-income community, conducting health promotion campaign against childhood obesity, providing free health check- ups for poorer children and free health education to the entire lower-class society. As argued by Assari (2018), although several initiatives are developed to reduce obesity in poor children, the most important thing that is needed to be considered in this context is the unemployment and income inequality in society. In this context, it is important to provide job opportunities to the poor family which will enable parents to have the financial ability to provide a healthy environment, good education and nutritious foods to their children. The UK government along with the national and local healthcare and social care authorities needs to ensure that each child in the deprived community will be provided with free healthcare facilities, right foods and proper nutrition that are important to reduce the chances of accumulating unhealthy fats in body (Anderson et al. 2016).

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From the above-mentioned discussion, it can be concluded that, childhood obesity is a matter of great concern in the UK today. Research shows that poorer children are more vulnerable to obesity as well as overweight as compared to their richer peers. Many reasons are associated with these factors such as poor family income, poor eating habits, unhealthy lifestyle, late bedtime, improper sleep and low-quality food intake. Additionally, the below standard family culture and environment, lack of parental care and guidance and poor health literacy of parents also enhance the prevenance of obesity as well as overweight among poor children. In this context, it is important to improve the family income, cultural values and knowledge of parents as well as family members on reducing obesity to improve the health and wellbeing of children.

Reference list:
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  • Anderson, S.E., Andridge, R. and Whitaker, R.C., 2016. Bedtime in preschool-aged children and risk for adolescent obesity. The Journal of pediatrics, 176, pp.17-22.
  • Assari, S., 2018. Family income reduces risk of obesity for white but not black children. Children, 5(6), p.73.
  • Boles, R.E., Halbower, A.C., Daniels, S., Gunnarsdottir, T., Whitesell, N. and Johnson, S.L., 2017. Family chaos and child functioning in relation to sleep problems among children at risk for obesity. Behavioral sleep medicine, 15(2), pp.114-128.
  • Boutelle, K.N., Sim, D.E.K., Manzano, M., Rhee, K.E., Crow, S.J. and Strong, D.R., 2019. Role of appetitive phenotype trajectory groups on child body weight during a family-based treatment for children with overweight or obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 43(11), pp.2302-2308.
  • Hemmingsson, E., 2018. Early childhood obesity risk factors: socioeconomic adversity, family dysfunction, offspring distress, and junk food self-medication. Current obesity reports, 7(2), pp.204-209.
  • Jang, M., Owen, B. and Lauver, D.R., 2019. Different types of parental stress and childhood obesity: A systematic review of observational studies. Obesity Reviews, 20(12), pp.1740-1758.
  • Landgren, K., Quaye, A.A., Hallström, E. and Tiberg, I., 2020. Family-based prevention of overweight and obesity in children aged 2–6 years: a systematic review and narrative analysis of randomized controlled trials. Child and Adolescent Obesity, pp.1-48.
  • Lynch, B.A., Agunwamba, A., Wilson, P.M., Kumar, S., Jacobson, R.M., Phelan, S., Cristiani, V., Fan, C. and Rutten, L.J.F., 2016. Adverse family experiences and obesity in children and adolescents in the United States. Preventive medicine, 90, pp.148-154.
  • Ma, Y., Gong, W., Ding, C., Song, C., Yuan, F., Fan, J., Feng, G., Chen, Z. and Liu, A., 2020. The Association between Frequency of Eating Out with Overweight and Obesity Among Children Aged 6-17 in China: A National Cross-Sectional Study.
  • Poh, B.K., Lee, S.T., Yeo, G.S., Tang, K.C., Afifah, A.R.N., Hanisa, A.S., Parikh, P., Wong, J.E., Ng, A.L.O. and SEANUTS Study Group, 2019. Low socioeconomic status and severe obesity are linked to poor cognitive performance in Malaysian children. BMC public health, 19(4), p.541.
  • West, S.L., Caterini, J., Banks, L. and Wells, G.D., 2018. The Epidemic of Obesity and Poor Physical Activity Participation: Will We Ever See a Change?.

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