Sheffield organisation takes fight against child obesity to Westminster

A Sheffield weight loss organisation at the forefront of tackling child obesity hopes a major funding gap will finally be plugged after taking its case to Westminster.

By Robert Cumber
Thursday, 24th October 2019, 3:34 pm

SHINE Health Academy has worked with overweight children and young people in Sheffield for 16 years, and has enjoyed huge success helping them shed the stones by getting to the root of the problem.

It is believed to be the only body of its kind in the country providing a tailored all-in-one service which addresses everything from diet and exercise to medical complications, including depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.

But the not-for-profit company relies on funding from Children In Need to continue its good work, and as things stand that money is set to run out at the end of 2020.

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SHINE Health Academy founder Kath Sharman (second from left) with public health minister Jo Churchill (second from right), University of Bristol researcher James Noble (far left) and Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield (far right)

The Government currently provides no funding to help young people who are already severely overweight manage their condition, having until now focused its efforts on prevention, but SHINE’s founder Kath Sharman believes that has to change.

She is campaigning for greater funding to tackle what she calls a ‘crisis’ in childhood obesity, and, with the help of Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, secured a meeting at Westminster today with public health minister Jo Churchill.

Speaking after the meeting, she said: “We don't know how bad the child obesity crisis is because at the moment the measurements end in year six, but our own study showed 43 per cent of 13 and 14-year-olds in Sheffield are overweight or obese.

“At the moment all the money seems to go towards preventative measures, like the sugar tax and labelling regulations, which are working really well, but that’s to the detriment of people who already have obesity-related problems.

“In Sheffield, we’ve found it’s really important to address the complex range of needs young people have, which is why we ensure the families we support get access to everyone from nutritionists and exercise instructors to counsellors and mindfulness workers.

“I’ve waited 16 years for this meeting and I’m very pleased with how it went. The minister seemed to really understand and share our concerns, and to realise there’s a big gap in services, which is something she said she was going to take to policy level.”

Ms Sharman was joined at the meeting by Mr Blomfield and James Nobles, a senior researcher from the University of Bristol, whose analysis has shown how successful SHINE’s model has proved.

Mr Nobles said: “There are about 300,000 young people across the country who should be eligible for specialist services like the one SHINE provides to manage their weight, but at the moment there’s no government funding earmarked for provision of those services. The scale of the challenge is very, very big.”

Mr Blomfield has been a passionate supporter of Ms Sharman’s campaign to get funding for specialised services for obese children, and he has criticised the ‘fragmented’ support currently available.