One in five school starters overweight in West Sussex

Nutritional information. Children are less aware of the link between sugar and weight gain
Nutritional information. Children are less aware of the link between sugar and weight gain

One in five children in West Sussex are overweight or obese when they start school.

A report put before the West Sussex Health and Wellbeing Board on Thursday (July 12) showed that the figure rose to almost one-third by the time youngsters went to secondary school.

In adults, the figure was 60 per cent.

In the report, Sue Carmichael, of the Child Obesity Task and Finish Group, said: “Obesity is a major public health problem costing West Sussex an estimated £415m per year.

“On average it deprives an individual of nine years of life.”

The meeting was told that, nationally, more was spent each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than the police, fire services and judicial system combined.

Nearly one-third of children aged 2-15 are overweight, with each successive generation becoming obese earlier and staying that way for longer.

Ms Carmichael added: “We may see the first generation with shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

The West Sussex figures were slightly lower than the levels for England and the south east, with Worthing and Arun having the highest rates of obesity for Reception children, and Arun and Crawley recording the highest rates at Year 6.

The lowest rates for Reception children were seen in Mid Sussex and Chichester, with Horsham and Mid Sussex showing the lowest rates at Year 6.

The meeting was told that obesity was an inequalities issue, with the higher number of children coming from the more deprived areas.

Education and understanding also appeared to be a issue, with nearly one in four parents thinking their child was at a healthy weight when they were, in fact, overweight.

Having spoken to a number of children, Ms Carmichael and her team uncovered one vital misconception.

She said: “They were aware that sugar is bad for their teeth but not so aware that it makes them overweight. Many were going to school without breakfast and replacing breakfast with a sugary snack or drink.”

Ms Carmichael outlined some of the work being done to help reduce the problem and shared some of the recommendations for future action.

Among the recommendations from the Task and Finish Group was the need to work with planning authorities to develop guidelines to ensure fast food outlets are not opened outside schools and are not concentrated in one area.

In addition, the group called for more restaurants to take part in the Eat Out Eat Well award for those who make it easy for customers to choose a healthy meal.

The successes included:

Working with school meals provider Chartwells, the county council has reduced the sugar content of school meals by 65 per cent;

Schools have taken up level 2 of the Bikeability programme, teaching children how to cycle safely on the roads;

A child obesity task group has been set up in Crawley;

Health visitors and school nurses now raise the topic of unhealthy weight;

And sugar reduction debates are being held with youth councils and schools.

Ms Carmichael added: “We haven’t quite got to where we would like to be but it’s very much positive and very much a work in progress.”

The meeting was told that, if West Sussex residents increased their daily activity, it could lead to 20,000 fewer cases of diabetes, 10,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease, 20,000 fewer cases of depression, and up to 800 fewer hip fractures in the over 65s.

She added: “We’re not asking for a huge change – but a small change in individual behaviour or environment can help that change.”