Fears over childhood obesity

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CHILDHOOD obesity is the single biggest health concern in Harrogate.

That is the message from a prominent councillor with responsibility for health after new figures from an annual health report showed the continuing high levels of children under threat in the area.

The Health Profile 2011 aims to help local governments and health services understand their community health needs in order to help them target specific areas of concern.

In Harrogate, childhood obesity was highlighted for the second year in a row.

Coun Jim Clark, chair of scrutiny of health committee for North Yorkshire County Council, said: “I believe this is the single biggest health concern we have in North Yorkshire.”

He added that overweight children often become overweight adults and will be at increased risk of diabetes, heart conditions and stroke, adding pressure to already stretched health services.

The report, which uses data from 2009/10, says 14.1 per cent of Year 6 children surveyed were obese - a total of 188, or around one in seven of those surveyed.

In 2006/07 this figure was measured at 14.6 per cent, with a dip to 12.8 per cent the following year, rising back up to 14.6 per cent in 2008/09.

This year - unlike previous years - the report did not publish data on Reception age children. But figures from the NHS Information Centre show 7.3 per cent of children at that age in Harrogate are now considered obese, dropping from a high of 10.3 per cent in 2007/08.

Coun Clark said the statistics only mentioned obese children and suggested that those who were already overweight and might become obese were also a concern.

He said: “It’s an absolute culture shift that’s needed.

“These children need to get more exercise, eat a better diet and live healthier lifestyles - but we need to reach the parents.”

More detailed statistics from the NHS Information Centre show 13.2 per cent of Reception age children and 14 per cent of Year 6 children in Harrogate measured as overweight in 2009/10.

NHS North Yorkshire and York’s health improvement manager, Greg McGrath, told the Harrogate Advertiser: “Anyone looking at the data needs to look at more than just the snapshot and to consider the figures over time.”

He pointed out that the figures in the report are a sample rather than being a complete assessment of the community and that not everyone would have responded to the survey.

“We can work closely with children, we can work closely with schools, but it’s parents that we need to reach and that’s often a lot harder,” he said.

He added that there had been no specific programme in Harrogate aimed at those children at risk or in need because of the costs associated and the relative seriousness of the problem in comparison with the figures nationally and in other nearby towns.

NHS North Yorkshire and York’s interim director of public health, Dr Phil Kirby, said: “Over the last few years we have seen a gradual downward trend in obese reception age children in Harrogate, with fluctuating levels of obesity recorded in Year 6 children. Both sets of data remain well below the national average.

“This data is encouraging and reflects the ongoing efforts of the PCT, its partner organisations and parents to reduce the impact of modern day lifestyles on our children’s health.

“It is essential however that we continue to focus our efforts on this important area of public health and, in particular, how we can increase the levels of physical activity amongst children in the Harrogate area.”

Obesity is defined as occurring when a subject’s body mass index (BMI) - a measurement that compares your height and weight - is 30 or higher. Anyone with a BMI of between 25 and 30 is classed as overweight.