Middle-class children are more likely to be obese than those from poor families, researchers revealed on Tuesday.

The findings undermine the long-held belief that childhood weight problems are most common among economically-deprived communities, scientists said.

By charting youngsters' obesity levels and where they lived, the team at Leeds Metropolitan University found that those in "middle-affluent" areas of Leeds were more likely to be very overweight than those in very poor or very wealthy postcode areas. The trend was particularly high among girls.

child

The results counter previous claims that childhood weight problems are common in poorer communities

Dr Claire Griffiths, who led the study of 13,333 schoolchildren over three years, said: "Although the prevalence of obesity is higher than desirable across the whole city, it appears that children living in the most deprived and most affluent areas of the city are at the lowest risk, with boys and girls following different patterns.

"These results could help make informed decisions at the local level including the allocation of health promotion resources.

"This is especially important now in the light of the recently enhanced role for local governments and authorities with an increased focus on locally-led action in the UK to tackle childhood obesity."

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Researchers say the findings contradict the conventional "deprivation theory" which suggests childhood weight problems are linked to poverty - a belief aired last month by public health minister Anna Soubry.

Ms Soubry said it was "heartbreaking" that many of the families who were at greatest risk of obesity were among the poorest in the country.

The Conservative MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, told the Daily Telegraph:

"When I go to my constituency, in fact when I walk around, you can almost now tell somebody's background by their weight.

"Obviously, not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds but that's where the propensity lies."

Leeds Metropolitan University said the team's approach was "novel" in the context of obesity studies. The large sample size covered the whole city, one person took all the measurements in a bid to make the data highly reliable and sophisticated techniques were used to process the statistics.

The project was part of a collaboration between Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds City Council and the Education Authority and is published in the International Journal of Obesity.

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  • Philippines

    "NO FRILLS school lunch in the Philippines" <a href="http://imgur.com/CwcCu"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/CwcCul.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • Finland

    "It's rice with a chicken sauce that has some salami mixed in. A bit of a weird combination but worked fine. Dessert is chocolate mousse." <a href="http://imgur.com/5xsIP"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/5xsIPl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • South Korea

    "You always get rice. Always. Sometimes they'll mix it up and add some grains or curry to it. Top right corner are Sesame leaves with a sweet honey sauce. You're suppose to use the leaves as a wrap and pack it with rice. This particular soup was a pumpkin potato soup. The food in the middle is a Korean pancake. It's made from a batter of eggs and green onions. Sometimes they'll add peppers and octopus. Above the pancake is Kimchi. Again, it's like rice. You're always gonna have it. It's a traditional Korean dish made with fermented cabbage. Chili paste is used to make it. It's almost like wine. The more it ages, the better it tastes. Top right is a sweet and sour salad that's mostly made with cucumbers and carrots. A lot of chili's are used to make Korean food so it's all relatively spicy. 'Good for the soul!'" <a href="http://imgur.com/USjuA"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/USjuAl.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "I see your Finnish, and Swedish school lunch, and I raise you our USA school lunch...." <a href="http://imgur.com/YLkxw"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/YLkxwl.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • India

    "I see your Finnish school lunch & South Korean school lunch and raise you South Indian School lunch" <a href="http://imgur.com/LEZPp"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/LEZPpl.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "I see all of your school lunches, and raise you my American school lunch..." <a href="http://imgur.com/5AGar"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/5AGarl.png" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "I see your Finnish and Swedish school lunches and fold...with my American lunch." <a href="http://imgur.com/usWvG"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/usWvGl.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "This is an american high school lunch!" <a href="http://imgur.com/6wTIz"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/6wTIzl.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • Denmark

    "On this plate of danish cuisine is roasted duck, potatoes and red/white cabbage." <a href="http://imgur.com/SjDCh"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/SjDChl.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • England

    "Time for an English school lunch." <a href="http://imgur.com/37KWk"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/37KWkl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • U.S.A

    "I see your South Korean school lunch and raise you my American school lunch." <a href="http://imgur.com/e4o9t"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/e4o9tl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "A typical school lunch at La Joya High School (parts of it were raw!!)... chicken??" <a href="http://imgur.com/W0cEJ"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/W0cEJl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • China

    "School lunch in China." <a href="http://imgur.com/p24dD"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/p24dDl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "I see all of your international lunches and raise you a Georgian school lunch. 'Merica" <a href="http://imgur.com/ynDv5"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/ynDv5l.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "I See Your Swedish School Lunch, But Here's My 'Healthy' American Lunch." <a href="http://imgur.com/qqgq6"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/qqgq6l.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • Japan

    "I see your Finnish, Swedish, and American school lunch, and I raise you a Japanese Kyushoku (school lunch)...." <a href="http://imgur.com/UskXj"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/UskXjl.png" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • Japan

    "I see your Finnish, Swedish, and US lunches, and raise you the (free) school lunch in Japan." <a href="http://imgur.com/bxTzz"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/bxTzz.jpg" alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" /></a>

  • Japan

    "Top left: Yaki-onigiri (grilled rice ball). Top right: Gobou salad (burdock root with broccoli, corn, mayo, and tuna) Bottom left: Cheese Bottom right: Curry udon" <a href="http://imgur.com/eGi6b"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/eGi6bl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "Excuse me, Chicago school lunch comin through..." <a href="http://imgur.com/ZyCH1"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/ZyCH1l.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • U.S.A.

    "I see your amazing school lunch and hate you because this is American school lunch." <a href="http://imgur.com/MMt4y"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/MMt4yl.jpg?1" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • Sweden

    "This is why I eat my school lunch" <a href="http://imgur.com/GllUO"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/GllUOl.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • Finland

    "This is one of the many school lunches I ate while living in Finland for a year. Fresh salad, smoked salmon, broccoli and potatoes" <a href="http://imgur.com/Be3xi"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/Be3xil.jpg" title="Hosted by imgur.com" alt="" /></a>

  • USA School Lunch

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/ryan8227"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/100002818538118/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/ryan8227">ryan8227</a>:<br />

  • Latin School of Chicago school lunch

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Trisha_Flassing"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/741909382/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Trisha_Flassing">Trisha Flassing</a>:<br />Acorn squash stuffed with sausage, warm farro salad and sage cream sauce.