11 December 2013

City child health initiatives help reduce obesity

Groundbreaking work in Brighton & Hove is helping children stay within recommended weight levels as the country attempts to tackle the growing obesity crisis.

Practical initiatives commissioned by Brighton & Hove City Council are not only raising awareness of free services but are also helping to reduce childhood obesity in the city, according to new statistics revealed today (11 December) by the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP).

More of the city’s children are recorded as being a healthy weight than in previous years and work by the city’s nurses and schools has seen a major boost to families participating.

In 2012/13 13.5% of year 6 pupils (10-11 year olds) were obese compared with 18.9% across England and 16 % across the South East. Brighton & Hove performs significantly better than the South East and England.

This is also a significant improvement since 2005/06 for year 6 pupils when it was 17.7%.

In terms of healthy weight, 72.4% of year 6 pupils were a healthy weight in Brighton & Hove compared with 65.4% in England and 68.9% across the South East - so again Brighton & Hove is significantly better.

For reception year pupils (4-5 year olds), 7.4% were obese in 2012/13, which is significantly better than in England 9.3% but slightly lower than the South East which stands at 7.9%.

Obesity prevalence has remained relatively stable over time. In terms of healthy weight 78.1% of reception year pupils were a healthy weight in Brighton & Hove compared with 76.9% in England and 78.9% across the South East.

Dr Tom Scanlon, Brighton & Hove City Council's Director of Public health, said: “Children’s formative years are vital for establishing healthy lifestyle patterns. It’s great to see there is at last a positive trend towards achieving healthy body weight among children in Brighton & Hove. Families are increasingly appreciating the need for balanced diet and regular exercise in helping children grow into healthy young people."

“However there are still areas for concern across this city and a significant proportion of children are sadly overweight and obese, and in these difficult economic times, buying fresh fruit and vegetables is more difficult for many people.  Parents need to know they are not alone in tackling this issue and that a range of practical support is available from Brighton & Hove City Council to help raise healthy children.”

The NCMP was introduced across England in 2006 to assess children’s weight levels in primary school. Height and weight measurements are taken from children in reception class (aged 4 to 5 years) and Year 6 (aged 10 to 11 years). The data is used to provide advice to families in need of support and is also part of local planning for delivery of services to children. 

Participation of the NCMP in the city is high with 98.6 per cent of reception children being measured (2,749 out of 2,798 children), an increase from 91.9 per cent last year. For pupils in their final year at primary school, 93.2 per cent took part (2,130 of 2,285) children; an increase from 84.3 per cent the year before. This increase in participation reflects the good work of the school nurses raising awareness and encouraging attendance. This high level of participation provides a good overview of the way local children are growing and how the city’s obesity rates compare to the national picture.

Although the city comes out well in comparison to the national average, England continues to have one of the highest levels of obesity in Europe and so needs urgent action. In Brighton & Hove a range of healthy lifestyles programmes are commissioned by Brighton & Hove City Council’s public health team for children and families. These programmes, provided free, include Family Shape Up, run by Brighton & Hove’s Food Partnership, which provides a combination of healthy eating advice and exercise, catering for all ages and abilities.

Lucy and her daughter Millie joined the Family Shape up programme after Lucy asked her doctor for healthy eating advice. Lucy explains how the programme has made a difference, she said: “We are now more active as a family and try to exercise much more often. Also, I try to cook more foods from scratch so I know what is being added. Meal times are not as rushed as we ensure that we sit at the table and turn the TV off and enjoy our dinner together. Both Millie and I have more energy since starting Family Shape Up and actually enjoy exercising. Family Shape Up has helped us to change our lifestyle for the better.”  Millie has also enjoyed Family Shape Up, she said: “It's really fun for the kids as we get to do sports and the adults learn interesting stuff to be healthier. It has changed our lives.”


Another initiative, which focuses on the benefits of exercise, is the Active for Life programme, which provides information on more than 400 activities in the city giving people the chance to be active all year round.

Dr Tom Scanlon added: “A partnership approach works well in encouraging healthy lifestyle choices. The changes people choose to make have to be practical and become part of family life. We know even small changes can have a big impact over time and can lead to a significantly healthier population. This is very much about encouraging ways to eat well and live well so that all children can enjoy healthy lives.”

Families seeking more information or advice can contact the local Healthy Weight Team to find out what initiatives may suit their needs best. The Healthy Weight Team details are telephone 01273 431703 or healthyweight@bhfood.org.uk<mailto:healthyweight@bhfood.org.uk>