Childhood obesity rates in King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth among the highest in England
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One in ten Norfolk children are obese at the start of primary school, according to new figures which raised particular concerns about two deprived parts of the county.
Data from the government's National Child Measurement Programme showed that the estimated obesity rates for reception-aged children in King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth were among the highest in England.
And the obesity problem gets worse as children get older, with prevalence among children leaving primary schools, both nationally and in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, around double that of those starting.
Binks Neate-Evans, headteacher of West Earlham Infant School and chairman of the Norfolk Primary Headteachers' Association, and said it was something she heard schools talk about 'all the time'.
She studied childhood obesity when training to be a PE teacher, and said it was a 'very strong' indicator they would be obese in adulthood, too.
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She said: 'I think it's really, really hard to talk to families about, because it's often linked to obesity in the family. It's really hard to talk about in a way that does not appear judgemental and personal, because it is personal.'
However, she said schools were trying to address the problem through PE and personal, social and health education, and added that last year's introduction of free school meals for all infants - which have to meet healthy food standards - would help address the issue.
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Norfolk County Council said it was a complex issue which involved many factors, and said there was a close correlation between obesity and areas of socio-economic deprivation.
The annual programme measured the height and weight of nearly 9,000 Norfolk children aged four and five, and nearly 8,000 10 and 11 year olds, and placed them in categories of underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese.
In the younger age group, the prevalence of obesity was estimated at 9.6pc in 2014-15, compared to 8.6pc the year before, although the increase was just within the margin of error. It came at a time when the national rate fell to 9.1pc.
In Suffolk, 8pc of reception-aged children were estimated to be obese, while in Cambridgeshire the figure was 7.4pc.
Our region followed a national trend which sees a higher obesity rate among older pupils.
In England, the obesity rate of almost one-in-10 for children in reception rose to almost one-in-five among pupils in their last year at primary school, and there was a similar pattern in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
By the time they were in Year 6, almost a third of Norfolk children were classed as obese or overweight, slightly below the national average. The figures for Suffolk and Cambridgeshire were lower.
A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: 'Childhood obesity prevalence shows a close association with socio-economic deprivation and is a significant health inequality as there are higher rates amongst children in disadvantaged areas and some ethnic groups.
'There are some areas within King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth that have been identified as being amongst the most deprived areas within Norfolk.'
He highlighted the Norfolk 0-19 years Healthy Child Programme, which provides early intervention and prevention for children, young people and families.
It will include healthy toddler and healthy pre-schooler workshops, targeted in areas with the most need.
The Community Sports Foundation (CSF) will also target primary and secondary schools in areas identified by the National Child Measurement Programme, with health awareness theory sessions, and periods of physical activity.
The council also said more than 210 Norfolk children and young people last year took part in a Fit4it programme, also run by the CSF, which covers diet and nutrition, self-esteem and confidence, physical activity and promotion of healthy lifestyles and behaviour change
It also pointed to specialist healthy weight services provided by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and James Paget University Hospital for very overweight children who require more specialist interventions.
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