Hartlepool has one of the highest levels of obesity among Year 6 pupils in England, figures reveal.
Public health groups and Hartlepool Borough Council have urged the Government to take further action, as one town health chief says ‘odds are stacked against families who want to eat healthy’.
NHS Digital figures show almost one in four children (24.3%) that finished primary school in Hartlepool in 2017-18 were obese, and of which 5.6% were severely obese.
Additionally, 16.3% of Year 6 children were overweight.
That means 40.6% of Hartlepool’s youngsters are unhealthily overweight when they finish primary school, the 13th highest nationwide according to NHS figures.
A meeting of the council’s audit and governance committee heard figures looking at 5-year combined data showed in Hartlepool had the highest obesity rate in the North East in Year 6 pupils.
It was also third in the region for Reception-age children.
Across England, 4.2% of 10 and 11-year-olds are severely obese, which is a record high, while 34.3% are claseed overweight or obese.
Hartlepool Borough Council chiefs say childhood obesity is a ‘top priority’ for the council.
The council’s interim director of public health, Dr Peter Brambleby said it is important more work is done to help address the issue.
He said: “The data shows more work is needed in the area, it’s a problem at entry level right up to Year 11. We need to be doing work before school and during school.
“This isn’t about the children, it’s about the family attitude. There are a lot of generational issues with food which leads back to a vicious circle.
“It’s financially tempting to go for quick easy options high in starch and fats, odds are stacked against families who want to eat healthy.
“But you don’t have to be wealthy to eat healthy and it’s about making healthier choices the easier choices.
“There’s issues such as supermarket offers and adverts which need to be addressed, but we have to look about what we can do on a local level.”
Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of leading health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups, said: “The ever increasing number of children living with obesity is a clear reflection of the unhealthy wider environment that pushes us towards sugary and fatty food and drinks.
“We need to start with reducing the number of junk food adverts children see before a 9pm watershed, restrictions on junk food promotions in supermarkets and the food industry stepping up efforts to reduce sugar and fat from everyday foods.”
Public health minister Steve Brine said: “Obesity is a problem that has been decades in the making – one that will take significant effort across government, schools, families and wider society to address.
“We cannot expect to see a reversal in trends overnight – but we have been clear that we are willing to do whatever it takes to keep children healthy and well in this country.
“We have already removed tonnes of sugar from children’s diets through the sugar tax, which has funded vital school sports and breakfast programmes, and this summer we announced the second chapter of our childhood obesity strategy with a series of bold plans to halve child obesity by 2030.”
Council are chiefs working to tackle the problem
A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesperson said: “Reducing obesity levels among children in Hartlepool is a top priority for the council, working in partnership with other agencies around the town.
“For example, the council’s Early Intervention team is working hard to support and encourage disadvantaged families with children to develop healthy lifestyles. Healthy eating and lifestyles are also now built into our parenting programmes and children’s groups, and school nurses and the health visiting service offer targeted support to families whose children are overweight.
“The council has also recently been successful in securing £280,000 over four years from the Sport England Families Fund to support disadvantaged and vulnerable families to overcome barriers to being physically active, and our sport and recreation and education teams are working with schools to develop a schools physical activity ‘charter’ which will link to active learning and energiser sessions and ‘daily mile’ initiatives which are currently being piloted in some schools.
“We are also working to encourage healthier travel and exercise opportunities, including the completion of two cycleway improvement projects in the Queen’s Meadow and Oakesway enterprise zones, and work is underway to establish a series of distance markers on Seaton prom linked to the ‘Move a Mile’ initiative, to encourage walking and cycling along this stretch.
“Furthermore, the council’s public protection team continues to work with take-away food providers to encourage healthier cooking practices such as healthier frying techniques and a reduced use of fat, sugar and salt. We also have a policy in our Local Plan which seeks to control the prevalence of takeaways in the town and our public health team is consulted on all hot food takeaway planning applications in relation to the possible health impact.
“The council is also working with Public Health England to develop an approach to tackle child obesity which will look to involve all organisations across the town which have the potential to influence this, with the aim of achieving large-scale change.
“Child obesity is a national problem, and there needs to be much more done on a national level. We welcomed the introduction of the ‘sugar tax’ but we agree, for example, with the suggestion from the Obesity Health Alliance that there needs to be a major reduction in the number of unhealthy food adverts targeted at children and we want the food industry to do much more to reduce sugar and fat in everyday foods.”