A steady decline in children’s health over the past two decades in the UK means they are now shorter and more likely to have obesity and type 2 diabetes.

A report from the Food Foundation found the height of five-year olds has been falling since 2013, with UK children now shorter than those in nearly all other high-income countries.

The report, titled A Generation Neglected: Reversing the decline in children’s health in England, said that at the same time, obesity has increased by 30% since 2006 with one in five children affected by the time they leave primary school.

Type 2 diabetes in young people has tripled in the past decade after the first cases were diagnosed in children in 2000, it added.

And babies born today will overall enjoy a year less of good health than babies born 10 years ago.

Research has shown that between 2008 and 2019 children’s consumption of some key micronutrients fell including calcium, zinc, vitamin A, folate and iron, the report said.

It has also been shown that the most deprived children are on average up to 1.3cm shorter than the least deprived in the UK by age 10/11 years.

The overall picture of poor health relates to children having more calorie-dense diets but also highlights the impact of poor-quality diet and undernutrition, The Food Foundation said.

Poor diet is linked to a range of factors, from high levels of poverty and deprivation to the aggressive promotion of cheap junk food by the food industry, the charity added.

At the start of this year 20% of households with children in the UK reported food insecurity as were 45% of households in receipt of universal credit, figures collected by the Foundation show.

Their previous report in January discovered families buying less fruit and vegetables and that the price of a ‘reasonably-costed, adequately-nutritious weekly basket of food’ has increased by 24-26% since April 2022.

Anna Taylor, executive director at The Food Foundation, said the health problems being suffered by the UK’s children due to poor diet were ‘entirely preventable’.

‘This is a national embarrassment. Politicians across the political spectrum must prioritise policies that give all children access to the nutrition they need to grow up healthily, as should be their right.’

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity and professor of epidemiology and public health, said: ‘Over a century of history has led us to expect continuous improvements in health.

‘Over the last dozen years that has changed. Healthy life expectancy has declined. Quite simply, people’s fundamental human needs are not being met.’

This article first appeared on our sister publication Pulse.