Obesity problem is getting bigger

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Today The Star begins a week-long investigation into the killer in our midst - obesity.

With one in five Sheffield 11-year-olds now obese, Features Editor Martin Smith looks at why and how we got to this point, and how excercise and healthy living can help us turn lives around.

OBESITY is killing us.

And in three years’ time it will be killing even more of us - unless we fight back against fat.

NHS National Child Measurement Programme figures show more than 1,000 Sheffield 11-year-olds and 500 four and five-year-olds are obese.

Figures also show that, although Barnsley’s obesity rates have generally decreased over the past three years, Rotherham has the highest proportion of obese 11-year-olds in South Yorkshire.

The total cost of obesity to the NHS in Sheffield is more than £150 million a year - and could be as high as £165m by 2015.

If lifestyle changes are not made by those at risk, it is estimated obesity will cost the country £50bn a year by 2050.

In an attempt to help tackle fat Britain, the Government helped to set up Change4Life, a national movement aimed to help us ‘eat well, move more and live longer’.

Cycling, swimming, healthy eating, walking to school, engaging in sport, growing and cooking your own vegetables, encouraging breast-feeding and increasing school meal uptake were all part of the multi-agency approach to our weight problem.

The initiative’s founding document said success would be ‘measured by a reduction in overweight and obese children by 2014’.

But if recent trends continue there will be 1,290 obese 11-year-olds and another 100 obese four to five-year-olds in our schools by the end of that year.

Sheffield is actually doing better than a lot of other cities in fighting fat. But the city’s situation is still worse than it was last year or three years ago when Change4Life began.

Sheffield put £5 million into the campaign in the city, and the Government’s Healthy Communities Campaign put in another £5m.

Yet three years later the bottom line shows we are worse off than when we started.

Obesity is responsible for:

- 58 per cent of type two diabetes

- 21 per cent of heart disease

- 10 per cent of non-smoking related cancers

- 9,000 premature deaths a year in England

- A reduction of life expectancy by nine to 11 years.

But Sheila Paul, Sheffield Consultant in Public Health, believes short-term setbacks will be outweighed by longer term gains.

“This is a national and international problem but we are keeping it in the spotlight and trying to address the issue. It’s a societal problem about healthy eating and physical activity,” she said.

“Change4Life tried to accelerate that change. We had programmes on breast-feeding, parental education, and parks and open spaces to encourage people to get out and excercise more.

“It’s about a range of different approaches to a major problem in the western world. We have to have this multi-agency approach.

“Obesity is a risk factor for a range of preventable health problems such as coronary heart disease, type two diabetes, some cancers and early death.

“We were very fortunate in getting the extra investment from Change4Life. The future is about helping people to choose healthy behaviours.

“There are some good news stories in these figures.”

Kath Sharman is managing director of the SHINE Health Academy, a Sheffield-based charity that helps children with serious weight issues.

She said: “If you think the National Child Measurement Programme stats are shocking for 11-year-olds, we found a 41 per cent obesity rate for 12 to 13-year-olds in a small study of eight Sheffield schools that reflected affluent areas as well as disadvantaged.

“We did our survey last year between April and September and found the results quite shocking.

“People are often offended to be told their children are overweight or obese.

“The most shocking thing is parents don’t know kids can get early-onset diabetes, a fatty liver and certain types of cancers if they are overweight.”

n Although the Change4Life initiative ended in March last year, no report or release has been published locally on its results. A health service spokeswoman said ‘the figures are still being collated’ - almost a year after the project finished.