The number of children admitted to hospital for obesity-related problems in England and Wales quadrupled over a ten-year period, new research showed Thursday.
Admissions rocketed to 3,806 youngsters in 2009 from 872 in 2000, a study by Imperial College in London has discovered, with teenage girls accounting for the biggest increase.
"The burden of obesity is usually thought to have its serious consequences in adulthood, but we now see it manifesting earlier, in childhood," said Dr Sonia Saxena from Imperial's School of Public Health, who led the study.
"It's important that doctors speak to patients about their weight, because any attempt to help their patients must begin by recognising the problem."
Over the last decade, a total of 20,885 young people aged between five and 19 received hospital treatment for conditions linked to obesity.
Nearly three-quarters related to issues like asthma, breathing difficulties during sleep, and complications of pregnancy, rather than obesity itself.
National surveys in England suggest that around 30 per cent of children aged two to 15 are overweight and 14 to 20 per cent are obese, the Imperial study reported.
Children who are obese have a higher risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnoea.
National Obesity Forum member Tam Fry said the findings showed the need for government to take radical steps such as banning fizzy drinks.
"I'm not surprised by this leap, and I won't be surprised if in five years we're taking about another significant rise," said Fry, who chairs the Child Growth Foundation charity.
"When it comes to obesity we have taken our eyes off children to such an extent that they are now completely unmonitored and left to get on with it."