Child obesity is a big issue for nation
Over the next four weeks The Herald’s Health Reporter Sophie Taylor will be looking at how carrying excess weight not only impacts on our health, but also our mental wellbeing. In the second of the loveLIFE campaign series, we look at what is being done to help city youngsters manage their weight.
LATEST figures show that around one in three children in the last year of primary school and one in four children in reception classes in Plymouth are either overweight or obese.
The annual National Child Measurement programme, which assesses the height and weight of primary children in England, saw almost 5,000 Plymouth children weighed and measured in 2011.
Results showed 33.7 per cent of youngsters in Year 6 were overweight or obese and the figure was 25.1 per cent for children in Reception year.
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Plymouth has the highest childhood obesity rate in the South West.
Julie Frier, consultant in public health for NHS Plymouth, said: "Obesity is an important public health issue nationally, as it is here in Plymouth.
"The number of overweight and obese children in Plymouth has varied over the past five years, but overall rates have been in line with national figures.
"In 2010/11 the National Child Measuring Programme statistics showed that around one in three children in Year 6, and one in four children in reception classes were overweight or obese in Plymouth.
"Compared with national figures, the prevalence of obese children in reception classes was the same as the national average and below the national average for Year 6.
"There is a risk that an overweight or obese child will carry excess weight into adulthood, which could mean that they develop health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, later in life.
"Maintaining a healthy weight for our children is a priority for the NHS, both locally and nationally, as it is an opportunity to make a big difference at an early stage to protect our children for the future."
Excess weight not only increases the risk of premature death, it also contributes to the onset of disease and ill health including cancers, Type 2 diabetes, as well as psychological and social complications.
According to Plymouth's latest annual Public Health Report, children from families where at least one parent is obese are much more likely to obese themselves.
The report also says that the family environment influences children's habits in relation to food and activity, as they largely reflect those of their parents.
Melissa Coyle, a sport and exercise psychologist at the University of St Mark and St John, formerly known as UCP Marjon, said: "Often the blame is associated with the individual, or frequently the parents. However, moving away from our blame culture, we need to think about the child.
"Often causal factors overlooked are the psychological ones such as a child's lack of self-confidence, social physique anxiety, emotional instability due to bullying or perceptions of stigma associated with the physical appearance, thus impacting on their mood, feelings and behaviour.
"These psychological factors may play a significant part in the reduction of motivation to participate in physical activity, break the habitual cycle, and change their dietary practice."
There is much activity in the city aimed at promoting healthy weight and reducing overweight and obesity in children, with programmes specifically designed to help youngsters make behavioural changes with regards to food and exercise.
Julie added: "Work to encourage healthy eating starts as soon as a baby is born; breast-feeding is the healthiest way to feed a baby and has some really important health benefits for both mum and baby. Breast-fed babies are less likely to become obese later in life and in Plymouth there is a network of 14 latch-on breast-feeding groups.
"This is supported both before and after the child is born with advice on healthy eating during pregnancy and throughout childhood. We have the Health Exercise & Nutrition for the Really Young (HENRY) programme as well as the SHINE programme, which stands for Self-Help, Independence, Nutrition and Exercise, aimed at 13- to 17-year-olds with a weight issue.
"Through schools we have made great progress on healthy menus and work with families and pupils on such initiatives as 'five a day' recommendations for fruit and veg.
"We have an emphasis on increased activity and active travel, not just through sport but initiatives such as the 'school walking buses'.
"This focus is important as we know that early healthy habits are reinforced and maintained throughout adulthood."