, Education correspondent
Thursday, February 21, 2013
One in 10 children in Norfolk and Waveney are already obese by the time they get to school, according to the latest figures.
That rises to nearly one in five by the time youngsters reach the end of primary school.
Last night Norfolk’s health minister warned that “we are storing up an enormous amount of trouble for the future” and insisted “searching questions” needed to be asked about whether the government was doing enough to tackle the problem.
The data, which has failed to improve from the previous year, comes from the NHS’ Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) and was collected in 2011/12.
It shows 9pc of four and five year olds in the Norfolk primary care trust (PCT) area – not including Great Yarmouth – are classified as obese by the time they reach reception class at primary school, while nearly one in four are either overweight or obese.
In Great Yarmouth and Waveney it is slightly higher with 10.3pc considered obese and 25.3pc overweight or obese.
For children in year six, the situation was even more worrying with 18.7pc of Norfolk youngsters and 19.9pc – or one in five – in Yarmouth and Waveney obese.
Norman Lamb, health minister and MP for North Norfolk, said the government needed to take the figures “extremely seriously”.
He said: “The potential health consequences of this are very disturbing. We are storing up an enormous amount of trouble for the future. The UK is worse than most of the rest of Europe and has been for many years now.
“There are serious concerns about diet and serious concerns about whether children are getting enough exercise. We have to ask the question whether the strategies we have been following over several years now are working effectively enough.”
The minister, whose government portfolio does not include public health, said the obesity crisis was a problem for everyone in society – from families to the food industry – but he also believed the government needed to look closely at the work it was doing.
Mr Lamb said that should include looking at whether it was being tough enough on food producers’ use of trans fats, ensuring they were encouraging and giving young people the opportunity to engage with sport, and checking public information was clear enough.
He added: “This is a problem that’s been developing for over a decade. We have to be willing to ask some searching questions about whether we are doing enough.”
Lucy MacLeod, joint interim director of public health for NHS Norfolk and Waveney said she was disappointed to see the figures were not improving.
She said: “We are actively working towards commissioning services that support parents, children and the whole family towards making healthier life choices.
“Childhood obesity is a major public health issue and in addition to the health service, parents, private, voluntary, community and statutory organisations all have an important role to play in making a real impact on improving the health of children.”
Almost every school in Norfolk is now involved in the Healthy Schools Programme run by the county council which aims to link healthy eating, personal, social and health education, physical activity, and the emotional health and well-being of the county’s children.
The county’s School Sports Partnerships – which continue to operate across Norfolk despite cuts in government funding thanks to support from schools – are also focused on tackling childhood obesity.
Jon Osborne, programme development manager for the Norwich SSP based at City Academy in Norwich, said, since the London 2012 Olympics, the focus had been shifting from competitive sport to finding opportunities for every young person to get active.
He said: “It’s not just about your traditional team sports, we’re organising individual sports and creative activities that might appeal to different people. We’re really trying to broaden the opportunities that schools have that they can provide to young people.
“We’re in a good position, as SSPs, to work with schools to find solutions to this problem.”
The figures for Norfolk and Waveney are close to the both the regional and national averages with 9.5pc of English reception pupils deemed obese and 19.2pc of those in year six.
Yesterday’s report by the HSCIC showed Britain’s obesity epidemic has got progressively worse over the last two decades.
A worrying 65pc of men and 58pc of women are now overweight or obese.
The HSCIC said between 1993 and 2011 there was a “marked increase” in the proportion of adults that were obese.
In 1993, 13pc of men and 16pc of women were obese and the figures soared to 24pc and 26pc respectively by 2011.