Parents are being encouraged to cut back on the amount of sugar they feed their children in a new campaign aimed to help youngsters in the region maintain a healthy weight.
It comes as a survey, carried out by NetMums, found two-thirds of parents are worried about the amount of sugar in their children’s diets and nearly half believe their family consume too much sugar.
The Change4Life campaign offers parents “sugar swap” tips including swapping ice cream for yoghurt and sugary drinks for sugar-free drinks.
Mother-of-one Kerry Robertson, 37, of Shiremoor, North Tyneside, knows all too well the importance of a family having a healthy diet as she lost a staggering five stones after taking part in The Journal’s first Fit Factor in 2013.
For the 12 week competition six chosen overweight participants were put through their paces with an intensive health and exercise programme to help them slim down.
Kerry, who has a four-year-old son, Max, said: “As the North East is one of the fattest regions in the UK we need to help and encourage the good people of the North East to lose weight and get fit, if not for their own sakes but for the sake of their children.
“I wanted to lose weight so that I could be the best mum I could be to my boy, Max. I weighed just over 19 stones when Max was nine to 10-months-old and, although he didn’t start crawling until he was 11-months-old, I knew I would struggle to keep up with him.
“I managed to lose three stones in weight after joining a slimming group but after a while my weight crept back up to 18 stones. In 2013 I entered the Fit Factor and was lucky enough to be picked. I lost three stones in 12 weeks and went on to lose another two stones, totalling five stones lost in six months.
“All this weight loss gave me lots of energy to play with Max and chase him around the beach or in the garden; the confidence to wear a swimming costume and take him swimming and to have a family holiday abroad.
“Other reasons for losing weight and being healthier is to set a good example to my son. I don’t want him to be overweight or develop unhealthy habits. Sweets are an occasional treat in our house and Max will often choose an apple over a bag of crisps.
“Children are our future and it is important that we, as parents, create a fitter, healthier region that’s good for all of us.”
Health guidelines advise that 10% of a person’s daily energy or calorie intake should be made up of sugar, but the Department of Health fear children aged four to 10 years old could be consuming far more.
Children aged four to 10 get 17% of their daily sugar from soft drinks; 17% from biscuits, buns, cakes, pastries and fruit pies, 14% from confectionery, 13% from fruit juice, and 8% from breakfast cereals.
A number of years ago The Journal launched it’s Great North Fitness Revolution campaign - which is still going strong today - to encourage people of all ages, shapes and sizes to keep active through regular exercise and by adopting a good diet to help reduce obesity levels in the North East.
Personal trainer David Fairlamb, who owns a fitness company in North Tyneside, said: “I am totally in favour of this new campaign, this was exactly why we launched the Great North Fitness Revolution in 2011.
“The philosophy of small changes every day will make a huge difference over time. For example, if your child drinks one can of coke per day it’s equivalent to around eight teaspoons of sugar, which adds up to a staggering 3,000 a year.
“If you then cut another two or three other things which are sugar laden out their diet you can expect a child to look, feel and behave much better quickly.
“Changing routine often helps as well. We are creatures of habit, therefore, if you child snacks on sweet things look to change their thought processes and what they do and eat at that time of the day, this will break their habit and lead to a healthier lifestyle.”
Ahead of the campaign launch this week, Public Health England worked with Netmums to advise 50 families on sugar swaps and found on average their sugar intake was reduced by 40% over the period of a month.
Dr Roberta Marshall, director of Public Health England’s North East Centre, said: “Reducing sugar intake is important for the health of our children both now and in the future. We are all eating too much sugar and the impact this has on our health is evident.
“This campaign is about taking small steps to address this. We know from past campaigns that making simple swaps works and makes a real difference. This year we wanted to be even more single-minded in our approach, which is why we are focusing on sugar alone.
“The family challenge highlights that simple swaps could lead to big changes if sustained over time and we’d urge North East parents to try one more simple swap in January and beyond.”
Eating and drinking too much sugar can lead to obesity which can cause heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes in later life.
It can also have a serious affect on dental health. The National Dental Epidemiology Programme for England found tooth decay was the most common reason for hospital admissions for children aged five to nine in 2012-13.
Data released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre last month found more than one in five children in reception class were classified as overweight or obese, while over a third of those in Year 6 were overweight or obese in 2013/2014.
More than 24% of children in the North East start school either overweight or obese rising to 36% for those in their last year of primary school. Children who are overweight or obese when they are young are far more likely to become overweight or obese adults and these figures demonstrate the increasing need to address children’s diet and limit future health problems.
Number of reception class children in England classed as overweight or obese - 2013/2014
one in five
Dr George Rae, a GP in Whitley Bay, and chairman of the North East British Medical Association, said: “A couple of generations ago we were all learning about fat and cholesterol. Thankfully, now the population, and particularly our youngsters, are being educated and alerted about the health risks of too much sugar.
“If you have too much sugar in your diet it is transported to the liver and fat cells where it is converted into glycogen and fat for storage. The risk of obesity and other health problems such as heart disease are then profound.”
The NetMums survey questioned 687 parents of children aged five to 11 and 1,720 parents of children of all ages online in October last year.
Cathy Court, founder of Netmums, said: “We know that mums want to provide a healthy diet for their children but balancing a number of competing priorities, including healthy eating, can be tricky. Although sugar consumption is a worry for parents, we understand that taking steps to reduce sugar can be really difficult.
“We hope that these simple sugar swaps from Change4Life will make it easier for parents to reduce their family’s sugar intake.”
The campaign is being supported by television, radio, digital advertising as well as a road show visiting 10 locations including Newcastle’s Eldon Square on January 18.
Throughout the campaign, families will be able to register for their free Sugar Swaps pack which they will receive through the post. The packs are filled with hints, tips and recipe suggestions designed to help parents cut down the sugary foods and drinks consumed by their children, plus money-off vouchers, swap cards and stickers.
Dr Daniel Lamport, research fellow and challenge data collection coordinator, said: “It is fantastic to see that the sugar swaps resulted in a reduction in sugar intake for these families.”
Parents can apply for a Sugar Swap pack by searching Change4Life online.