New figures show the number of overweight and obese Year 6 children in Brighton and Hove has risen in one year. However health bosses are confident they are slowly winning the battle and the healthy living message is beginning to get through. Siobhan Ryan reports.

Around one in six 10 and 11-year-olds in Brighton and Hove are obese.

New figures have revealed the number of children in their last months of primary school in the city who are not a healthy weight has risen in the last year.

The news is better for children who are just starting school, with the number of overweight and obese Reception class pupils falling.

The information shows that while the healthy living and eating message is getting through when it comes to very young children, more work may need to be done for older ones.

The National Child Measurement Programme involves the weighing of children in their Reception year and Year 6.

It found 15.5% of the 1,979 Year 6 pupils weighed in the last year were obese, a slight rise on the 15.2% from the year before.

It also found a further 14.2% were overweight compared to 13.7% in 2010/11.

A total of 2,491 Reception class children in the city were weighed, with 7.7% classed as obese and 11.2% overweight.

This is a drop from 8.2% and 13.2% from the year before.

Health and council bosses in the city say a lot of work has been done to get children more active and eating healthily from a young age and it was beginning to have an impact.

Olympic effect

Reception weights have been steadily falling in the last five years and the 15.5% figure for older children, while showing a slight year-on-year rise, is still lower than the 18% recorded in 2007/8.

City officials are hopeful the Olympic effect will continue to have an impact on children in the city who have been inspired by the achievements of the British team in London this year.

Events such as the Brighton Marathon and its children’s Mini Mile races have also been growing in popularity, helping to get people more active.

In his annual report published earlier this year, the city's director of public health, Tom Scanlon, said it was important that parents and carers of overweight and obese children were fully aware of the weight management services that are available in the city.

Overweight children can be referred to the Healthy Weight Referral Scheme and are then assessed by trained coordinators.

MEND course

Programmes offering advice and practical support include MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it!), a nine week after school programme that offers obese children and their families a combination of nutritional information, support and physical activity.

Ibrahim Awad, 11, from Portslade, took part in a Mend course this summer after being teased at school over his weight.

In just a few months he has changed his diet and is now in the healthy weight bracket.

His mother Mariame said: “Since he was two and a half he has been eating very unhealthy food, eating only chips and nuggets and was getting quite chubby.

“At Mend they encouraged them to eat healthily and educated them about what was good or bad in food like the sugar content or the fat.

“After that when he went to the shops he would choose much more healthy food that previously he would never have eaten.

'More active'

“It has got me thinking about things as well and has benefited us as a family.

“He is a lot happier and more active than he was before and is really doing well at school.

“As he is getting older he is caring more about his appearance and I hope that what he has learnt from this course will stay with him as he gets older.

“I would recommend it to anyone to sign up as it really has made a difference and helped stop him developing any health problems in the future.”

Other projects in the city include an innovative scheme created by PE teacher Matt Lindner from Patcham High School.

He started running the scheme last year after becoming concerned about the number of children who were preferring to watch TV or play computer games instead of being active.

Attack stigma

Mr Lindner worked with other teachers to work out which children and their families to approach about taking part.

The idea was to try to attack the stigma attached to weight loss classes and make them fun for all. The programme consists of a six-week course of physical activity, team bonding games and healthy cooking classes.

Since its launch, 38 children have taken part and lost 87kg between them. The scheme is now set to be taken up by other schools in the city.

Brighton and Hove City Council and NHS Sussex have also agreed to meet the £131,000 annual cost of a free swimming programme for children under 11.

More than 11,600 are signed up to the scheme and over the last year they enjoyed 40,000 free sessions between them.

Figures show that there are also higher levels of obesity in other parts of Sussex, with Hastings and Rother and West Sussex both having a greater proportion of obese children than in Brighton and Hove.

Poorer diet

Research has shown that children in more deprived areas have a poorer diet and are less active than those in more affluent locations.

This is believed to be partly down to less available information about healthy food and lifestyles being available.

People on lower incomes with families to feed may also be more tempted by supermarket deals that offer cheaper high-sugar and fatty foods.

Health promotion teams in the city are hoping to work more closely with supermarkets and also raise awareness of local fruit and vegetable providers who can offer good deals on more healthy food.

Speaking about the release of the latest figures, Dr Scanlon said: "Parents sometimes don’t realise when a weight problem is creeping up on their children.

“We see our own children every day and don’t always notice gradual changes.

'Simple changes'

“These Reception and Year 6 measurements of children’s weight and height remind us of how simple changes can prevent significant health problems later on in life.

“Making lifestyle changes doesn’t need to be difficult and parents can make a big difference to their children’s future health, for example by switching from full fat to low-fat milk, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting back on fast food and encouraging them to be physically active as part of everyday life.

“These are changes that can benefit the whole family.

“There are many activities which children can take part in to achieve a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.

“We are making progress in key areas and remain below the national average for overweight children with services such as Mend proving popular and successful.

“We will to continue to support children and families to achieve and maintain a healthy weight."

The city’s healthy weight team can be contacted on 01273 431703.

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