Childhood obesity problem 'is complex'

CHILDHOOD obesity cannot be solved simply by youngsters eating less and exercising more, a public health expert has claimed.Norman Foster, from Suffolk Primary Care Trust's (PCT) public health team, said the issue of overweight children was far more complex.

CHILDHOOD obesity cannot be solved simply by youngsters eating less and exercising more, a public health expert has claimed.

Norman Foster, from Suffolk Primary Care Trust's (PCT) public health team, said the issue of overweight children was far more complex.

His comments came after the East Anglian Daily Times yesterday revealed that nearly a third of 10 and 11-year-olds in Suffolk are obese or overweight.

While the figures are partly a symptom of a fast-food nation and children spending more time on computer games, Mr Foster said tackling the physiological aspect alone was not enough.

He said: “Yes, if people exercise more and eat less most they would become thinner, and that applies to children as well.

“But it is much more complex than that and needs to be addressed as an holistic issue.”

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He added: “Some of it is down to transport issues. Children are not walking or cycling to school in the same way as they used to.

“Diet certainly plays a big, big part in this as well. Nobody wants to deprive children of sweets or foods that they are going to enjoy but the thing is that everything needs to be taken in moderation and needs to be balanced.

“The other aspect is that it is not just about the sheer physiology but about the mind and changing behaviours.”

Mr Foster said the figures were worrying and admitted they were worse than expected.

While the national picture has not yet fully emerged, Mr Foster said the estimates were that it too would show a third of year six pupils were overweight or obese.

He said: “On most other health issues Suffolk tends to be a bit healthier than most of the rest of the country.

“It's difficult to interpret as not all the figures from other areas are actually in. I know ours are really good figures - we have figures on 85% of all the children you could weigh and measure.

“I do not know how we compare with other areas. However you stack it up, to have a third of our kids in that age group obese or overweight is worrying.”

Commonly thought to be a problem affecting families with lower incomes, Mr Foster revealed overweight children can be found all over the county.

“Looking at these figures and the national ones as well, it doesn't seem to be linked specifically to deprived areas,” he said.

The number of children classified as overweight or obese at age 10 and 11 - just under 33% - is a lot higher than those aged four or five, 23%.

Mr Foster said: “Some of it is down to growth issues and the way children grow and develop but it does look like young children, on that basis, might be more active and eating a bit better.”

Government targets are for the year-on-year rise in obesity in children under the age of 11 to be halted by 2010.

Mr Foster admitted this would be a “difficult target” but added that he hoped next year's exercise of weighing and measuring children would not see a gain on this year's figures.

Although health trusts in the county are grappling with multi-million pound debts, he said the public health team “certainly has enough money” to do what it wants on the obesity issue this year, particularly as it costs the PCTs in Suffolk £17.5million a year.

One of the most significant programmes is a series of MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition and Diet) courses devised by Great Ormond Street Hospital, which will be available at venues across the county.

Mr Foster said the Government also has a part to play in tackling obesity through legislation - not taxes or bans on fatty foods but initiatives such as clearer labelling.

While he said no-one wants a “nanny state”, he said it was about people taking responsibility for their own health and being supported in that by the NHS and its partners.

“It is a question of everybody taking responsibility,” he said. “It's a question of families taking responsibility, the NHS putting support mechanisms in place to help people to take responsibility, and working with our partners such as district councils, the voluntary sector, and organisations such as Sport England, to put interventions into place which will help those people to try to become fitter and healthier.”

n What do you think? Email us at eadtletters@eadt.co.uk, but include your postal address, write to Letters to the Editor, EADT, 30 Lower Brook St, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN, or fax a letter on 01473 324871.

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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