Child obesity in the spotlight

SHOCKING numbers of obese children in Suffolk have prompted health professionals to put the spotlight on the issue, it emerged today.Children from reception and year six classes in schools across Suffolk were measured and weighed in 2007, and the results revealed that a quarter of children were obese.

SHOCKING numbers of obese children in Suffolk have prompted health professionals to put the spotlight on the issue, it emerged today.

Children from reception and year six classes in schools across Suffolk were measured and weighed in 2007, and the results revealed that a quarter of children were obese.

Of the 99.6 per cent of pupils in reception classes measured, 9.6 per cent were obese, and of the 81.8 per cent of pupils in year six that were measured, 16.2 per cent were found to be obese.

Although Suffolk Primary Care Trust has already put the Mind, Exercise, Nutrition and Do-it (MEND) programme in place, it is also currently working with other agencies, for example schools and councils, to prevent childhood obesity becoming an even bigger problem.

Sally Hogg, head of Health Improvement Partnerships at Suffolk PCT, said: “When we measured and weighed the first lot of children, it shocked us. We knew the problem was there but when you see it in black and white, it is a shock.

“We knew children were getting fatter but no one really knew how many or to what extent.

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“The targets we have are about reducing the number of obese children. It does not just involve health-we are looking at the whole lifestyle. We have got to change as a whole country. Obesity exists right across the board.”

MEND is designed to be an intervention programme for children aged seven to 11, although the PCT is looking to build other options for different age groups.

Suffolk PCT is also working closely with all its partners to ensure that preventing obesity is a high priority, and looking at areas like promoting breastfeeding, school meals, the Healthy Schools programme, and walking to school schemes.

Mrs Hogg added: “It is important to emphasis that small changes in all of our lives can make a big difference.

“From our perspective, we are starting to really look at what needs to be done and this will be a driver to ensure that everyone works together to first level obesity levels and then move towards a reduction in overweight and obese children.”

The county's allocated budget for child obesity is £250,000, but according to Dr Amanda Jones, deputy director of public health at Suffolk PCT, there is a lot of additional money spent on obesity-related issues, for example the Healthy Schools Programme.

The PCT's budget for 2006/07 was £175,000, and together with various contributions from sources like the education sector, this amounts to about £250,000.

Dr Jones said: “We have an allocated budget and are looking to increase that next year. It is a tiny proportion of the PCT's budget. “We are in the process of developing lots more things. We are looking to bring someone into the PCT who will focus on just co-ordinating obesity issues. It is becoming something that is incredibly important and so we have to focus on putting a lot of resources into that.

“There is an increasing rate in obesity so we have got to reverse that trend, nevermind halt it. We are now in a generation where children do not live longer than their parents. It is a real issue and that is why we are trying to do something about it. We are trying to stop the problem in the first place.”

Has your child been involved in the MEND programme? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

MEND consists of a nine weekly free sessions, developed originally by the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street. It is run from four sites across Suffolk, including Ipswich and Stowmarket.

The programme includes swimming and games, nutrition sessions and recipe-tasting evenings.

Marcelle Barrett enrolled her son, Mark, into the programme to help him lose weight. As a 5ft 4ins 11-year-old, Mark was overweight at 11 and a half stone. Since embarking on the programme, he has lost a stone and is continuing to learn about healthy eating.

Mark, who has autism, completed the course last December but still has regular support sessions.

Mrs Barrett, 50, of Sidegate Lane, north east Ipswich, said: “He has been overweight for a while as he loves his food. He has been told that he doesn't need to lose weight and shouldn't put it on - just to grow into it.

“Before the course, he used to go to a fast food restaurant and eat a whole large pizza to himself. Now, when we go, he has two small pieces and some salad.

“During the course, they took the children to a supermarket and showed them how to read the labels.

“What is so good about it is they are very good with the children, because a lot of them, including Mark, were sensitive about being overweight. They don't like to use the word 'diet'.

“The parents go as well which is so important because it helps us learn about healthy eating as well.”

If you want to enrol your child on this programme, call 01473 770007.

16 per cent pupils in Suffolk aged eight to ten do not describe their lives as healthy or fairly healthy

8.5 per cent of five-year-olds and 18 per cent of eleven year olds in Suffolk are obese

36.7 per cent of children in Suffolk have their five-a-day fruit and vegetables. In the Whitton ward it is more like 25.3 per cent of children compared to 47.6 per cent in the Eastgate ward in Bury St Edmunds.

30 per cent of UK children are obese.

It is predicted that one in four children in the UK will be obese by 2050.

The British Heart Foundation runs a Food4Thought campaign to encourage children to take responsibility for their own health by educating them about what they eat. Research shows that advertising influences children's choices as the number of junk food adverts far outweigh healthier foods.

The BHF is campaigning for a ban on junk food ads before 9pm. The charity believes it should be illegal for companies to act in any way which either has the intention or the effect of promoting unhealthy food to people under the age of 16.It is calling on the government to ensure regulations are put in place to protect children.