Shock rise in child obesity

NORFOLK parents were warned last night of “horrifying consequences” for their children as new figures showed a growing number of youngsters are obese, despite numerous initiatives to tackle the problem.

NORFOLK parents were warned last night of “horrifying consequences” for their children as new figures showed a growing number of youngsters are obese, despite numerous initiatives to tackle the problem.

A report by NHS Norfolk shows that 18.3pc of 10 and 11-year-olds (year 6) are classed as obese - a rise from 16.2pc last year.

And the problem is spreading to younger children, with nearly one in 10 four to five-year-olds also suffering from obesity - a rise from 8.2pc last year to 9.4pc this year.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat shadow health spokesman, said obesity was now “nearing epidemic proportions”.

He said: “These are shocking statistics. And they demonstrate the scale of the problem we face. The consequences for individuals who are becoming obese are too horrifying to contemplate.

“We are seeing a rise in diabetes and there is increased risk of heart disease. The brutal truth is that government programmes are not getting through.”

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Health bosses said they were working hard to tackle the problem and said initiatives were in place to try to halt the rise in obesity.

Lucy Macleod, a consultant in public health for NHS Norfolk, said: “We are concerned this proportion of children at this age is obese. We are working hard to bring this figure down. But reducing obesity levels is a long-term project and cannot be achieved overnight.”

Obesity is calculated using a formula known as the Body Mass Index which is based on height and weight. If it is higher than 25, someone is considered overweight and above 30 is considered obese.

Experts now believe obesity is responsible for more ill-health than smoking and can lead to a range of problems including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes as well as some cancers.

Since 2005, government MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do it!) programmes have been rolled out in Norfolk to reduce family obesity levels.

Earlier this year, a Change4Life project was launched in East Anglia by the Department of Health to encourage children to be more active and eat healthily to help them live longer.

A Healthy Norfolk Schools programme has, for the past few years, targeted general health, exercise and weight loss including getting more children to walk to school. There has also been a concerted effort to get more children to eat school dinners, rather than packed lunches.

Latest figures show the number of youngsters being driven to school fell by almost 6,000 in five years.

Ms Macleod said: “The main causes of obesity are known to be a lack of exercise and a high-calorie diet, so NHS Norfolk is committed to working with our partners to encourage members of the public to become more active and facilitate their move towards healthier diets.

“Obesity is one of our top public health priorities in Norfolk. Our research shows many children starting school at a weight higher than that recommended for their age. Consequently, some of NHS Norfolk's initiatives to reduce childhood obesity are aimed at improving the diets and lifestyles of children before they start school.

“This includes the promotion of breastfeeding and other child and infant nutrition programmes and NHS Norfolk has recently recruited staff to posts in these areas to expand on these services.”

Sarah Barnes, health improvement manager for NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney, said: “Maintaining a healthy weight is not just about eating and exercise; it's about having the skills to cook, to understand labels and even includes issues such as feeling your child is safe riding down the road on their bike or playing in the park by themselves.”

A recent study by the National Audit Office has estimated that obesity costs the NHS at least �500m a year - and the wider economy more than �2bn a year in lost productivity.

Experts predict that if the current rate of growth continues, three-quarters of the population could suffer the ill effects of excess weight within 10 to 15 years.