WORRIED health chiefs have made tackling bulging childhood obesity levels in Hartlepool a key priority after figures reveal more than a third of youngsters are classed as overweight.
Officials at Hartlepool Borough Council admit more needs to be done after the latest figures showed 25.1 per cent of reception children are classed as either overweight or obese but that number rockets to 38 per cent for children in Year 6.
Now officials on the town’s health and wellbeing board have identified overcoming the growing problem as a “key priority”.
It comes as one town schoolboy is beating childhood obesity and the bullies after joining the gym aged just 12.
Overweight Jake Norman was at risk of diabetes having succumbed to the temptation of fatty processed foods and sweets and bullies made his life hell, calling him “fat”.
But just two-and-a-half weeks after joining a gym in Hartlepool, he has already lost half a stone and is feeling more positive.
Health chiefs say obese youngsters risk high blood pressure, heart disease, type two diabetes and some forms of cancer when they are older if they do not shed the pounds.
As well as the physical problems, health chiefs say children that are overweight and obese can also experience low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
In Hartlepool, 14.1 per cent of reception children were classed as overweight and 11 per cent as obese. Meanwhile, it Year 6 the problem gets worse with 16.8 per cent classed as overweight and 21.2 as obese.
Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, council leader and chairman of Hartlepool’s health and wellbeing board, said the local authority is fully aware that more needs to be done to tackle childhood obesity levels in the town.
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “Being overweight can have a significant detrimental impact on a young person’s life both physically and emotionally.
“Research clearly shows that it contributes to conditions such as diabetes and illnesses later on in life such as heart disease.
“The health and wellbeing board recognised at its meeting earlier this month that more needs to be done to reduce childhood obesity in the town and decided it would be the top health priority over the next 12-months.
“Members of the board requested a report from the director of public health to map out how this piece of work can be best undertaken and it will be supplemented with a marketing and communications strategy to ensure that we get key messages across to local people.”
The child body mass index (BMI) figures relate to 2012-13 and are the latest available.
Hartlepool - which has had a poor obesity level for children for a number of years now - is not alone though and it is a similar picture across the Tees Valley in Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton.
Health officials have previously put it down to a number of factors and say there is “no quick fix”.
Possible reasons put forward include low breast-feeding rates in Hartlepool, socio-economic reasons including low income, family history and medical reasons.
Other factors include youngsters not doing enough exercise, eating too many take aways and fast food while even low literacy rates can contribute.
Figures are collected for height and weight measurements in order to calculate the BMI (Body Mass Index) for each child.
BMI, which is adjusted for age and gender, is currently seen as the best measure to tell if children are healthy or not.