Council launches pilot scheme as escalating numbers of children are overweight

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A council has reported an escalating number of overweight youngsters since axing a well-regarded scheme to help children and their families make positive changes to their diet.

A North Yorkshire County Council report has revealed since Healthy Choices was abandoned in the wake of swingeing government cuts in 2020, the county has had no weight management service for children and has seen annual rises in children with excess weight that have been “much higher than in previous years”.

After completing Healthy Choices 80 per cent of youngsters saw marked weight reductions.

In 2016, 21 per cent of five-year-olds and about 30 per cent of 11-year-olds in the county, significantly lower than the national average, were found to be living with excess weight.

However, a public health report has revealed these figures have since overtaken or moved close to the national average, with 29 per cent of reception pupils and 38 per cent of primary school leavers classed as overweight.

Although child weight statistics for different local authority areas for last year will not be published by the government until December, last year it was reported  obesity rates in both reception-aged and Year 6 children increased by around 4.5 percentage points between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Concerning the sharp rise in children with excess weight, the council report stated: “There is a real need for families across the county to receive compassionate support to manage weight, eat well and move more.”

Such is the concern over the rise in children with excess weight since its Healthy Choices programme was abandoned two years ago that senior North council members and officers have agreed to pump up to £106,000 from its reserves to kick start a family weight management service.

The 18-month pilot service will utilise the county’s current successful service for adults to support adults who have dependents that need a holistic support for the whole family. It will also take referrals for children and young people through National Child Measurement Programme and other health professional referral routes.

However, unlike Healthy Choices, which was delivered in children’s homes or at a local venue, the new service will be remote, with up to 12 phone or video calls.

The officer’s report states the service will be “more cost effective” than Healthy Choices, which cost £300,000 annually.

The authority’s executive member for health, Councillor Michael Harrison said since 2020, both locally and nationally there had been the largest rise in obese primary schoolchildren on record.

He said: “We have a good record on our adult weight management initiatives, with five per cent body weight reductions for those completing programme we offer, and that weight loss is sustained 24 weeks later.

“If these figures are going up there is an increasing number of people who are having their lives impacted by complications to their health in later years. As public health professionals it is right that we should try and something about it in a practical but compassionate way.”