How the North East is trying to buck the trend of childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is on the rise, but a number of projects around the North East are trying to do something about it. Sarah Scott reports

Louise Newman and Phoebe Jackson at the School Run Fitness Camp
Louise Newman and Phoebe Jackson at the School Run Fitness Camp

Fizzy drinks, fast food and computer games - the causes of childhood obesity are as many as they are well-known.

The problem of overweight youngsters is felt nowhere more keenly than in the North East, which has one of the worst levels of obesity in Europe.

But that does not mean there isn’t action being taken to try to reverse the situation, from individuals in the fitness sector to public projects aiming to increase the amount young people exercise and improve the way the eat.

Among those trying to buck the trend is father-of-one Chris Jackson, who believes the key to tackling problems with childhood obesity boils down to educating the parents.

Chris, a former army infantry soldier, is establishing the School Run Fitness Camp in a bid to get parents and children exercising and learning about basic nutrition together around the school day.

Launching the new initiative in the Consett area of County Durham, 33-year-old Chris is on a mission to improve the health and wellbeing of young families in the area by promoting sustainable health and fitness lifestyle improvements.

That mission has a personal element: his mother Pamela to a heart attack at the age of 45, having been overweight. Chris, who had been in the army, trained as a sports instructor and has worked in the industry since then.

“Basically my background is fitness training and personal training and I have been doing that for six years,” said Chris, of Washington, who has seven-year-old daughter Phoebe.

“I had this idea a few years ago. I think obesity starts with children and the Government have a lot of different things going on to tackle it but I think we need to tackle the parents.

“My idea is that if we can get the parents more active and fitter this will impact on how the kids view it.

“It is all about getting families active together and using my fitness background, I have done exercise for children before but I wanted to make it something different.

“The idea is that the parents would come after the school run in the morning and do a fitness session and then there would be an after school club when they would come down with the kids and do food workshops and activities.

“I have approached schools in Consett and Derwentside and told them about my concept and they loved it.

“I’ve developed a donation scheme so sessions are £5 and £1 from paying parents goes back to the school the parent would nominate. It is about giving back to the community as well and encouraging the school to do a bit more to do with health and fitness, I know it is in the ciriculum but I know they can struggle with finding new ideas.

“One thing I did four or five years ago was I aprroached the nursery my daughter was in and did fitness sessions with the kids from the age of two up and nutrition boards as well.

“It was about getting people to think in a different way so instead of having, say, cheesy puffs you change it to carrot sticks and celery and they saw a lot of difference in the kids behaviour.

“After doing that research I thought that’s what needs to happen, we need to get to the parents because if they make the right choices it will help the children.

Classes started last month at Croft Travel in Hownsgill, Delves Lane in Consett, and Chris hopes he can expand on what is done this summer so families continue to come to him throughout the year.

Meanwhile in Newcastle, the Healthy Schools programme works with schools, setting targets and supporting them with small changes that can make huge differences in childrens’ futures.

“It’s a programme for Newcastle schools and we have two different elements to Healthy Schools, the first is to get Newcastle Healthy Schools status and the wider bit is Newcastle Healthy Schools Plus,” said Judith MacMorran, senior health improvement specialist with Newcastle Hospitals Community Health.

“Healthy children do better in learning and in life, that is the evidence we have. We know children who do really well who are really healthy do much better in terms of education. They are more likely to go on to be able to get jobs and lead a healthy life,” she said.

Healthy Schools Plus is about schools in the city focusing their work on one key element of health and putting in place activities which show the impact for what they have done.

Roz Rigby, health improvement specialist with Newcastle Hospitals Community Health, said the programme targets specific areas of the city with a concentration in the east and west with Change for Life activities.

Obesity problems are also linked to areas of social deprivation and Roz said area in the east and west of the city both suffered high deprivation levels.

“Childhood obesity is linked to social disadvantage and we focus work on where we have the highest levels of obesity but also highest levels of disadvantage, we know the link is there,” she said.

Schools are provided with training and support to help them progress with their healthy eating and well being projects.

“From that they decide what their priority is going to be to focus on for two years and we support them to come up with a range of different activities for them to concentrate on,” said Judith.

“For example if they identify that not enough children take school meals, it is about working with them to see who can we improve this. From looking at dining room layouts to make it a pleasant place to be, to working with them on everything down to cutlery but also working with parents.”

Roz added: “School food has changed dramatically from a lot of parents memories, they are still worried and think it is unhealthy so we will do a lot to promote it, parents can see menus and we can look at it with parents and children.”

At Moorside Community Primary School, they used the programme to focus on healthier weight by making physical activity a priority for pupils. Local NHS data linked to the National Child Measurement Programme shows that there was a high rate of obesity in that area of Newcastle.

The school decided to focus on increasing the number of pupils engaged in one hour of extra physical activity in school, additional to their timetabled PE, from 38% to 58% by March this year.

This was to be brought about by broadening general provision, raising awareness of the benefits of exercise and targeting the least active groups of pupils.

Following months of work the schools made huge achievements with an increase form 38% to 90%. The majority of pupils having breakfast also attend energy club; an average 60 pupils a day participate in fitness activities before school. When it comes to after school clubs, for example running, dance, zumba, trampoline and girls football, 462 pupils have attended one of these clubs.

The school is now going to continue offering a variety of physical activities and encourages pupils to join clubs in the are available later in the evenings and weekends.

For more information from Chris on School Run Fitness Camp email jumpingjax@live.com or call 01207 338294, text 07581193934, or visit the Facebook page School Run Fitness Camp and Twitter account @school_run_fit.

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