SHOCK new figures reveal a quarter of Hartlepool youngsters are classed as obese by the time they leave primary school.
Health chiefs say child obesity rates in town, which are higher than the national average, provide one of the “biggest threats” to the future of health in Hartlepool.
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.
Officials say there is a rising trend nationally and that the problem isn’t unique to Hartlepool, but admit it is a huge concern.
Hartlepool youngsters top the obesity tables in the Tees Valley, with a quarter of Year 6 pupils classed as obese in 2010-11.
That compares with 21.8 per cent of Middlesbrough youngsters, 18.7 per cent in Redcar and Cleveland and 20.6 per cent in Stockton.
Carole Johnson, head of health improvement at NHS Hartlepool, said: “This is one of the biggest threats to the future health in Hartlepool.
“The figures are alarming but unfortunately they are not a great shock.
“We are aware of the trend nationally but what is important is what we do about it because research shows excess weight in childhood continues into adulthood.
“We all know the feeling when you start to put a bit of weight on, you don’t feel good about yourself and it can lead to low self-esteem and anxiety.”
Every child in Hartlepool is weighed and measured when they are in the reception class, aged four to five, and when they are in Year Six, aged 10 to 11.
In 2010-11, the percentage of reception aged children classed as overweight was 13.5 per cent, compared to 12.5 per cent of Year 6 pupils.
But figures also show that 10 per cent of reception children are classed as obese, which then rockets to 25.9 per cent in Year 6.
Health officials put the shocking figures 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.
Hartlepool has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the country, with high proportions of new mums opting to bottle feed.
Mrs Johnson added: “It has to be a long term plan and it won’t be something that improves over night.
“We are really trying to push the breast feeding agenda at the moment because a child that is breast fed is less likely to be obese and overweight.
“Childhood obesity is not just a Hartlepool problem, there is a national trend, but it is a significant concern.”
Nationally in 2010-11, around one in 10 pupils in reception were classified as obese (9.4 per cent), which compares to around a fifth of pupils in Year 6, or 19 per cent.
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.
Mrs Johnson gave this advice to parents worried about their children: “Cut down on the amount of convenience food and cut down on the amount of time they are allowed to play on the computer and get them out and about a bit more and play with them in the park.”