Almost a quarter of 10 and 11-year-olds in Blackburn with Darwen are obese, as new figures show that rates in the borough have worsened following the coronavirus pandemic.

The Obesity Health Alliance said every child deserves to grow up healthy, regardless of their circumstances and urged the government to incentivise companies to produce healthier products and restrict children from being "bombarded with manipulative advertising".

NHS Digital figures show 560 of 2,265 Year 6 pupils measured in Blackburn with Darwen were classed as obese or severely obese in 2022-23.

It meant 24.7 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds were in the highest two BMI categories as they prepared to leave primary school.

This was down from 26 per cent in 2021-22 but above pre-pandemic levels of 22 per cent in 2019-20.

Across England, 22.7 per cent of Year 6 pupils were obese or severely obese – down on the 23.4 per cent recorded the year previous, but still above pre-pandemic figures.

The data comes from the government's annual National Child Measurement Programme – part of its approach to tackling obesity – which records the height and weight of Year 6 and reception-age children in state-maintained schools across England to monitor obesity trends.

Katharine Jenner, director of the OHA, said: "All children have a right to grow up healthy, regardless of their circumstances."

Ms Jenner added people want easy, healthy options, and said if the government was to incentivise companies to produce healthier products and restrict advertising financially, "it will have a disproportional benefit on those struggling to get by, freeing them from the harm caused by unhealthy food and drink".

Ms Jenner also highlighted the divide between rich and poor, with children living in the most deprived areas (30.2 per cent) more than twice as likely to be obese as those living in the least deprived (13.1 per cent).

Public health and wellbeing boss at Blackburn with Darwen Council, Cllr Damian Talbot said: “These figures say a lot as we had a child obesity trailblazer employed by the council which the government cancelled.

“We were looking to deal with the issue but the government took it away.

“The pandemic obviously had an effect as young people were at home during lockdown, although things feel like they’re getting back to normal now but it’s still impacting a lot of people.

“We have had leisure centres starting to reopen and attract back pre-pandemic levels of people but the impact of the pandemic we will see for quite some time.

“The issue of obesity in children is something we have got to continue to work on.”

Dr Mike McKean, vice president for policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said overweight children – of which two in five leave primary school – have a higher risk of chronic illnesses, mental health issues, and lower life expectancy.

Dr McKean said the disparity between children living in deprived areas and those in affluent places is "unacceptable". He added: "To have these children at such a disadvantage before even starting secondary school is a national disgrace."

The government aims to cut childhood obesity rates in half by 2030, but Dr McKean said the root cause is poverty and deprivation, which "are robbing our children of a healthy adulthood before they even start school".

He urged the government to expand free school meals, increase financial support during the cost-of-living crisis, implement a junk-food marketing watershed ban, and introduce mandatory guidelines on sugar and salt in baby foods.

The Department for Health and Social Care said it is committing to halving childhood obesity rates in 2030.

A government spokesperson said: "We have already brought in measures to reduce the amount of sugar and salt in foods, particularly those aimed at children and our soft drinks industry levy has nearly halved the amount of sugar in soft drinks, while the sugar reduction programme has significantly reduced the amount of sugar in foods popular with children – including breakfast cereals and yoghurts.

"By investing £320 million a year in school sports we are promoting healthier lifestyles through physical activity and through schemes like Healthy Start, which encourage a healthy diet for families from lower-income households."