Thursday, February 05, 2009

£1.4m Programme to tackle child obesity launched

The £1.4million scheme will target around 2,000 children aged between 7-13 years old and their families over the next three years. It’s the first time that this type of scheme for children will have run on a national level in any country. By international standards Welsh children are comparatively more overweight or obese than in other nations. Around one in five 13 year olds are overweight or obese and many obese children grow up to be obese adults.

Families will take part in a free 10 week course with others in a similar position, combining practical learning about healthy eating – including shopping on a budget – and stimulating active enjoyment of physical activity. Rather than focusing on weight loss, the programme uses an interactive learning approach to teach parents, carers and children weight management skills. Families will also be offered follow-up contact including reunion events and telephone support.

The programme – Mind, Exercise, Nutrition... Do It! or MEND for short – was devised by experts in child health at the world-renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the University College London Institute of Child Health. Launching the programme, Dr Tony Jewell, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said:

Being overweight can be tough for children both physically and emotionally. Caring for an overweight or obese child can be difficult too, especially if they lack confidence or feel depressed because of their size.

We have evidence that shows the programme raises individuals’ self esteem and supports them in making healthier choices.

It’s vital that we tackle the obesity issue. Welsh children’s rates of obesity are already too high and are increasing. Overweight or obese children are also more likely to be overweight or obese adults. More than half – 57 per cent – of all adults in Wales are already overweight or obese.

The programme has already been run on a limited basis in four areas of Wales. Paul Sacher, founder and research director, MEND, said:

Many parents of bigger children don’t realise that their child is above the healthy weight range for their height and age, or put it down to ‘puppy fat’ that will disappear as their child grows older.

However, being overweight or obese as a child is a serious condition. Overweight children suffer physically and emotionally and it can lead to serious health problems in later life.

MEND programmes help boost children’s self-esteem while changing the way everyone in the family thinks about what they eat and being active. Children and parents also meet others who are in a very similar position so they form their own supportive network.

For families that are not able to be included in the MEND programme, a range of resource materials to inform families on how to eat more healthily and introduce more physical activity into their lives is being rolled out through the Assembly Government’s Health Challenge Wales programme. The programme encourages people to take small steps to eat a healthier diet and take more physical activity.

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