A national policy is needed to tackle the region’s obesity time bomb, a North East fitness campaigner has warned.
Obese children as young as 10 raised on diets of fizzy pop, energy drinks and take-aways are turning to personal trainer David Fairlamb in a bid to lose weight.
And David, who helped launch the Journal’s Great North Fitness Revolution campaign said, while ultimately the buck should stop with parents, the Government need to take action through schools to change attitudes to diet and fitness and stop the health timebomb.
His comments echo calls by doctors in the British Journal of Sports Medicine who say the Olympic legacy has failed to impact on child activity levels and Britain lags behind its European counterparts when it came to children’s health.
An editorial in The journal - which has drawn its findings from a number of experts from the worlds of sport and medicine, including Sam Allardyce, Richard Weiler, Gregory Whyte and Emmanuel Stamatakis - called the obesity epidemic “mass child neglect” and said a national policy is urgently needed to tackle the problem and get our children active with PE activities increased in schools.
Dr Richard Weiler, from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Despite the well accepted benefits of physical activity and the recognised importance of schools in delivering the physical activity opportunities, the erosion of physical education in schools combined with ever reducing play facilities has the opposite effect.”
Figures show only a third of boys and a quarter of girls in England meet the minimum recommended daily physical activity levels and one in three children leaving primary education is obese, they warned.
Dr Weiler added: “Failing to meet children’s basic physical needs is likely to result in the serious impairment of their health and development. This is quite literally indistinguishable from the government’s own definition of child neglect.”
The North East has the highest rate of childhood obesity in England, and in some wards in the region 30% of 10 and 11 year olds are classed as obese, according to figures released earlier this year.
David said: “These are shocking statistics. Over the last five years I am seeing more children aged from 10-15 who are obese. A lot of it is down to bad diet.
“They are drinking full-fat coke, Red Bull and having takeaways and pizza. There needs to be a reeducation of parents and children about food and exercise.
“Something needs to be put in place where primary school pupils have to do the right amount of exercise. At the moment some schools do it better than others.
“Projects like the Great North Fitness Revolution are great as they encourage people to just make small changes every day and after a time they can change your life. But this problem needs to be tackled on a national scale with new policies.”
Department for Health obesity figures, released in June, showed that as a local authority Newcastle had the highest prevalence of obesity amongst year six children in the region.
A total of 15.1% pupils aged 10 and 11 are classed as overweight and 25% as obese - a total of 40%.
This means an estimated 3,000 children in Newcastle aged two to 10 are classified as obese with a further 2,600 classified as overweight.
In reception 14.5% are obese when they start school, and 15.5% are overweight, giving a combined figure of 30% - also the highest of any of the North East local authorities.
The Wingrove ward was Newcastle’s fattest area, with 32.2% of children classified as obese. The second was Felling, Gateshead with 30.8%.
Director of Public Health at Gateshead Council, Carole Wood, said: “Our increasing obesity rate is one of the most important health threats facing our local population.
“From local surveys we know that a lot of people in Gateshead do not do enough physical activity and they don’t eat a healthy enough diet.
“We need to change these habits to improve the life chances and wellbeing of our future generations. To do that we are making a long term commitment to work with local communities to establish a culture where every child grows up eating well and being active, starting with maternal health and increasing the number of mums breastfeeding.
“Schools and families have the greatest potential to influence the health of our future generations.
“In Gateshead we hope to make a difference by increasing the take up of school meals and nutritional education, by promoting physical activity in schools and nurseries and by encouraging more people to walk or cycle to school or work.”
A spokeswoman for Public Health England in the North East said: “Child obesity is closely linked to socio-economic deprivation – and unfortunately the North East has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country. Prevalence among youngsters living in the 10% most deprived areas around the country is nearly twice that for children living in the least deprived 10% of areas.
“Children’s health is one of Public Health England’s top five priorities. What happens to children in their early years can affect their health and opportunities throughout their life.
“There is much more to do but PHE is already helping children be as healthy as possible by encouraging healthy behaviours and preventing illness so that they can lead long and healthy lives.
“Some of our current programmes include Change4Life programme, working with local authorities to help identify and reduce childhood obesity through the National Child Measurement Programme, and working with our partners to support vulnerable families through the healthy child programme, family nurse partnership, and Troubled Families Programme.”
In response to the BJSM report, a Government spokesman said: “This Government is taking decisive action to harness the Olympic spirit and make sure every child has the opportunity to be fit and healthy.
“We have extended our ring-fenced funding for primary schools to spend on sport to 2015/16 - with a total of £540m now going directly to head teachers to improve PE and sport in their schools.”