Help at hand to tackle childhood obesity

NEW “intervention” courses are to be offered to families with concerns about their child's weight and health as Suffolk bids to tackle its childhood obesity problem.

By Jonathan Barnes

NEW “intervention” courses are to be offered to families with concerns about their child's weight and health as Suffolk bids to tackle its childhood obesity problem.

The full extent of the problem will be revealed in the coming weeks with the results of an investigation into the health of our youngsters.

Thousands of schoolchildren have been weighed and measured in the course of the summer term as part of a major Whitehall drive against childhood obesity.

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Health and education bosses expect the results to present a significant challenge and are preparing plans to help young people improve their health.

“I expect we're going to be no better or no worse than anywhere else in the country and, if national statistics are to be believed, one third of children are overweight or obese, and that's very worrying,” said Norman Foster, from Suffolk East PCTs' public health team.

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He said recent obesity research showed the problem was becoming almost as common in more affluent areas as poorer regions.

“We should have now done enough to establish a sound database across Suffolk and have some idea of what the problem is locally and within the next month or so we will have a firm handle on it.”

Once the results are known, parents and carers of children under 12 will be invited to take part in new “early intervention” courses if they have concerns about their child's health.

The 18-session MIND (Mind Exercise Nutrition Diet) course, programmed by London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, has already been piloted in the Waveney area and produced “extremely encouraging” results.

The courses, due to start in November, will be strategically placed across Suffolk and aim to tackle the issue in the most sensitive way possible.

“It is family-based intervention and we want children to come along with at least one parent or carer,” said Mr Foster.

“The sessions will look at all aspects of diet and will offer advice and exercise sessions from qualified people such as nurses and dieticians.

“There are also exercise issues and mind issues, and experts will give advice on the mental aspects of obesity. It's a comprehensive exercise.”

The major initiative has seen children across two year groups - reception year and year six - in primary and middle schools weighed and measured.

Health bodies are working alongside local councils and the voluntary sector on the scheme, which will be carried out annually as the Government bids to halt the year-on-year rise in obesity.

The EADT has also launched a campaign to raise awareness and understanding of childhood obesity.

Our investigation has highlighted an alarming lack of investment in PE equipment by schools over the last two years, with an average of just £8.50 spent on each pupil, compared to more than £90 per pupil spent on IT.

“Our children are not doing enough PE, if you look at the statistics and compare them to the continent,” said Mr Foster.

“It's also worrying the amount who carry it on into later life. Only about 30% of our children continue exercise and take up sport after leaving school. It's about building it into their lives, not just in a school environment.”

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