D&S column: the importance of tackling childhood obesity

AS the proud father of two young daughters I know only too well the challenges parents face keeping our children fit and healthy. 

My two both inherited a sweet tooth from me and I’m not sure who was more excited last week when we saw Domino’s pizza was opening in Northallerton - rather handily on the way home from the constituency office! 

So, my wife and I are very mindful of the need to make sure they enjoy a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. But we are also very aware of how difficult that can sometimes be. 

Which it is why it was so great to hear of the initiative launched by Osmotherley Primary School recently to build more exercise into the school day with its Morning Mile. 

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a group of pupils, staff and some parents arrive at school half-an-hour early to enjoy a run around the nearby countryside, supervised by a qualified sports coach. 

And as I found when I joined them on a recent Friday run it is great fun, even when early morning low cloud cloaks the North York Moors with mist. 

Acting headteacher Jane Bamber led from the front and I tagged along at the rear with some of the parents and teachers. They had sufficient puff to tell me of the benefits the exercise has for pupils’ concentration in their lessons later in the day as well as building regular, enjoyable, exercise into the daily routine at an early age. 

That is so important, I believe. The evidence is quite clear, once weight is gained, it can be difficult to lose and obese children are much more likely to become obese adults. 

Obesity is now a leading cause of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. These conditions incur a huge cost to the long term health and wellbeing of the individual, the NHS and the wider economy. 

It has been estimated that the NHS in England spent £5.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014/15 and figure will grow based on the current trends for childhood obesity. The total cost to society is estimated to be between £27 billion and £46 billion per year. 

The Government is taking action, publishing its plan to tackle obesity in young people two years ago. That resulted in, among other things, the soft drinks industry levy – the so-called sugar tax – which came into force in April. 

The money generated from the levy is being used to improve sports opportunities in schools. Stokesley School is one of the beneficiaries of this money with more than £500,000 to upgrade its PE facilities. 

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ recommend that all children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day. Many schools already offer an average of two hours of PE or other physical activities per week. However, we need to do more to encourage children to be active every day just as they are doing at Osmotherley. 

Initiatives like the Morning Mile are just what the doctor ordered but the Government accepts that more needs to be done. An updated childhood obesity plan will be published shortly with further measures to help ensure all children have the opportunity to be active and grow into healthy adults.