Sheffield MP welcomes review into child obesity funding 'disgrace'

Hundreds of thousands of children battling obesity in the UK have been given fresh hope thanks to one Sheffield woman’s tireless campaigning.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 2:59 pm
Updated Friday, 1st November 2019, 4:43 pm

Public health minister Jo Churchill is launching a review into the support available to young people who are already severely overweight, for whom there is currently no government funding dedicated to helping them and their families.

Announcing the move this week, Ms Churchill praised the work of Kath Sharman, who since launching SHINE Health Academy in Sheffield 16 years ago has enabled thousands of children in the city shed the pounds by providing them with everything from diet and exercise advice to help addressing the mental health problems which are often at the root of their weight gain.

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SHINE Health Academy founder Kath Sharman leads a session for young people in Sheffield (pic: Steve Ellis)

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The minister met Ms Sharman only last week, along with Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield and University of Bristol researcher James Nobles, to hear from them why funding was desperately needed to help those already battling weight problems rather than being focused entirely on preventative measures.

Ms Churchill said: “We have the prevention plans in place to help children grow up with a healthy weight. But I’m concerned about all those children and their families already struggling now.

“This was brought home to me when I met SHINE Health Academy from Sheffield recently and the wonderful Kath. She explained how they are battling to get the right services and support in place for children and their families.

“I was also struck by the outgoing chief medical officer’s report that told us that 1.2 milion children already live with obesity and need better services now to support them and often their families with their weight and lifestyle.

“That’s why yesterday I announced we will be launching a review into how we can better support people living with obesity and making sure we have the services and support in place to best help those children and their families.”

Ms Sharman, whose non-profit organisation currently relies upon funding from Children In Need, said she cried when she heard the announcement, adding ‘I feel we are on our way at last’.

Mr Blomfield said: “I’m pleased the minister’s listened to us. It’s a disgrace that the NHS doesn’t currently fund services to support the growing number of children with severe obesity. SHINE shows what can be achieved, and takes referrals from GPs and Sheffield Children’s Hospital, but gets no public funding for its brilliant work.

“Thanks to SHINE, we’re one of only three places in the country where any services are available. This has to change and I’ll continue to press the issue.”

In Sheffield, more than a fifth of children starting primary school are overweight or obese, according to the latest government statistics, rising to over a third in the final year of primary school.

The Government does not measure weight at secondary school, but SHINE’s own research suggests more than two fifths of 13 and 14-year-olds in the city are overweight.

Mr Nobles’ research showed that SHINE’s work with young people in the city was more successful than other programmes across the UK at helping children lose weight both in the short and longer term.