County's bid to tackle childhood obesity

THOUSANDS of primary school children in Suffolk are to be weighed and measured as part of a Whitehall initiative to tackle obesity and promote a healthier lifestyle, it emerged last night.

THOUSANDS of primary school children in Suffolk are to be weighed and measured as part of a Whitehall initiative to tackle obesity and promote a healthier lifestyle, it emerged last night.

A teaching union backed the move as a way of promoting better behaviour in the classroom and said it would also like to see the scheme rolled out into secondary schools.

Health bosses in the region have pledged no children will be individually targeted as part of the project and all findings will be kept confidential in a bid to prevent bullying.

It is thought around 15,000 youngsters will be taking part in the survey, which is being carried out by Suffolk Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) together with all state and some independent schools in the county.

It is part of a Government-led initiative between the Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills to help improve youngsters' lifestyles.

As part of the scheme, which started this month and will finish at the end of the summer term, schools will weigh and measure the height of children across two-year groups - reception (aged four and five) and year six (aged ten and eleven).

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The findings will then be used to get a greater understanding of the needs of youngsters in the area and will give an overview showing which community clusters need what level of support.

Norman Foster, from the Suffolk East PCTs' public health team, said: “National statistics unfortunately show about a third of young people are now overweight, which is tremendously dangerous for illness in adult life.

“If you are obese as a youngster you are more likely to be overweight in later years which can, among other things, lead to chronic heart disease, diabetes and problems with joints.

“It is a real ill health issue and we need to do something about it. The problem is we don't know what the picture is like in Suffolk and for this reason we are doing the exercise.

“It is very much about getting statistics for the whole population and not targeting individuals. It will be done with a minimum level of disruption as measuring will only take a few minutes for each child.

“All parents or carers concerned will be receiving a letter from the school explaining the process and anyone not wishing to have their child weighed and measured will be able to opt out.”

Mr Foster said the scheme was being funded by existing resources as well through the Government's Choosing Health agenda.

“After the exercise we will be writing to parents across the area to see if they have any concerns and require additional advice,” he said.

“The intention is to provide resources to support schools in promoting healthy lifestyle choices in eating, exercise and emotional well-being.”

He said they were aware of the potential for bullying but highly trained staff would be on hand to act with sensitivity and take all measurements confidentially.

“Obesity for children is a complex issue and there is all sorts of mental attitudes and stigma. The last thing we want to do is promote ridicule and we will be working hard to ensure we approach the matter with care.”

Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Anything that monitors the health of children can only be a good thing.

“It is well documented that children who come to school after eating breakfast and have a nutritious lunch perform better than those who miss out and snack on crisps and sweets.

“I do think there is an argument to introduce the initiative into secondary schools where youngsters are more image-conscious and will eat something because it is fashionable or not eat it because it is not fashionable.”

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