Health chiefs pledge to tackle Great Yarmouth and Waveney’s childhood obesity ‘blackspot’
Health chiefs have come together to form a unique team to drive down the number of obese children in Great Yarmouth and Waveney - as figures reveal the east coast district has the fifth highest number of overweight youngsters in the country.
More than a quarter of four and five year olds living in the area are now classed as overweight or obese, putting them amongst the heaviest in England.
The area also tips East Anglia's scales as having the region's greatest percentage of overweight youngsters with 27.6pc, compared to 21.5pc in Norfolk (not including Yarmouth) and 21.9pc in Suffolk (not including Waveney).
The stark figures, compiled by primary care trust area, also puts NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney above the national average of 22.9pc.
But doctors at the James Paget University Hospital (JPH), in Gorleston, are taking action to try to reduce the numbers, after launching a scheme dedicated to working with overweight children and their families, and helping them slim down.
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Childhood obesity is strongly linked to deprivation and health chiefs have recognised parents in areas such as Great Yarmouth and Waveney face 'challenges' - including living on low incomes, which may tempt them to chose cheaper, prepared food.
Nurse specialist Mary Haddow is among the JPH team, which includes a dietician, psychologist, personal trainer and nursery nurse, and said they had already started to see 'positive' and 'encouraging' results.
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She said: 'What we're hoping to do is help these children achieve a healthier weight and for the whole family to achieve a healthier lifestyle. It's not just pushing small kids to lose weight.
'A lot of people don't realise that the food they're providing is very high in fat or sugar and is causing a problem. Some don't know how to move forward and how to change their diets. Just preparing healthier meals is a big part of it.'
Young patients are referred to the Paediatric Healthy Weight Team by their GP, school nurse or health visitor and initially meet with a consultant, dietician and psychologist before leaving with a personal healthy eating and exercise plan.
Support is then given through follow up appointments and, if need be, home visits to ensure patients are 'on track' with their programmes.
Families are also offered cooking classes to teach them and give them the confidence to prepare healthy dishes from scratch - rather than relying on prepared foods - and there are plans to introduce a service so parents can go shopping with a member of the team to identify healthy alternatives.
Sister Haddow said the team, which works with children aged two - 18, also aimed to bring together existing healthy lifestyle services to provide a one-stop-shop for families needing support.
And she defended the NHS for providing a service to tackle the area's childhood obesity problem that some think should be left up to mums and dads to solve.
'I'm sure a lot of people think that it's up to the parents, but if people need help to get there and need help to change, it needs to be provided. I think it's ok for us to provide that,' she added.
'Obesity is costing an awful lot of money. By putting something in place for children now we will prevent a larger problem later and hopefully save the NHS a lot of money.'
She admitted slimming down the district was a 'big challenge' but hoped by providing a personal plan and listening to families' individual needs, the team's work would bring results where previous schemes had failed.
She said: 'We started this because we have got such a high obesity rate. We have seen things that haven't worked and we're trying to put in something different that will work.
'We're definitely aiming for prevention; we must treat what we have at the moment but the idea really is prevention.'