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Childhood obesity campaign hits North Yorkshire

Childhood obesity campaign hits North Yorkshire

Published at 1:02am 29th April 2018.

A new childhood obesity campaign has been launched in North Yorkshire. 

By local Democracy Reporter Stuart Minting

The key to tackling childhood obesity lies in making healthy choices easy, according to the public health boss of a county with the lowest proportion of very overweight youngsters in the North and Midlands.

As celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall this week launched campaigns over food firms’ marketing of junk food to children, government statistics were released showing North Yorkshire was holding back the national epidemic in childhood obesity.

North Yorkshire County Council’s director of public health Dr Lincoln Sargeant said while he had been buoyed by the figures suggesting the county “was doing the right things”, it remained some way from reversing the trend.

The Government figures from the National Child Measurement Programme show almost one in five (19.6 per cent) children in England leave primary school aged 11 classified as obese.

North Yorkshire’s 15.7 per cent of obese 11-year-olds is among the lowest for 350 local authority areas in England, and is significantly lower than neighbouring authorities Darlington (21.2 per cent), County Durham (22 per cent), Lancashire (17.7 per cent), Bradford (22.5 per cent) and Leeds (19.6 per cent).

While only York has a lower proportion of obese primary school leavers, at 15.5 per cent, Hartlepool has among the highest rates of obese 11-year-olds in the North, with 24.4 per cent being given a body mass index of above 30.

Meanwhile, it has emerged Camberwell Green, in south London, has become the first area in England where there are more overweight children than ones with a ‘healthy’ body mass index.

The figures also show while North Yorkshire’s proportion of overweight 11-year-olds has remained steady since 2011, there have been rises in places such as Darlington and Bradford.

Differences between districts in North Yorkshire were also highlighted in the figures, with only 13.2 per cent of 11-year-olds in Harrogate district being classed as obese, where in Craven it was 15.5 per cent, Ryedale 15.6 per cent, Hambleton 16.5 per cent, Richmondshire, Scarborough and Selby districts it was 17 per cent or above.

Dr Sargeant said childhood obesity was linked to deprivation, but it appeared the county’s ten-year Health Ways, Healthy Lives strategy it launched in 2016 was having some effect.

He added his team of specialists would have to work very hard to continue countering the trend. The strategy includes a wide range of initiatives to tackle childhood obesity, such as supporting breastfeeding groups, giving specific training to health visitors and alerting parents through letters if their child had been found to have a high body mass index.

Dr Sargeant said the council’s Healthy Choices Service had begun visiting obese children at their homes, and after a completing a 12-week course 80 per cent of the youngsters had seen marked weight reductions.

He said work with schools had included encouraging teachers to embed exercise throughout the curriculum, such as children counting the number of skips they are able to do and charting their progress.

Dr Sargeant said work was ongoing to improve the healthiness of school meals. He said: 

“A simple change with how you prepare a pizza, without making the preparation more difficult or losing the taste, can make a huge difference.

“A lot of people think childhood obesity is the energy-in energy-out equation. But if you step back you find it is about the wider context in which people live. We work to make people consider how they can make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Councillor Jim Clark, chairman of the authority’s scrutiny of health committee, said:

“I welcome these figures, but obesity is still a major challenge and not just for children.”

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