Lothians lose the weighty battle of the child bulge

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THE battle to beat childhood obesity is being lost in the Lothians, new figures have shown.

Despite numerous initiatives to drive down the number of overweight youngsters, the proportion of primary one children who are obese or severely obese has risen in the Lothians in the past year.

However, Edinburgh appears to be bucking the trend, with a drop in the proportion of “overweight” primary one children, down from 23.4 per cent last year to 20.5 per cent this year.

Over the same period, the proportion of primary one pupils classed as “obese” in the Capital dropped from 10.4 per cent to 9.4 per cent, while those who are “severely obese” dropped slightly to 5.4 per cent. It puts the Capital just ahead of the national average. But the number of overweight children has risen in the rest of the Lothians, with Midlothian faring particularly badly. It has the second worst figures in Scotland, after North Ayrshire, with just under 28 per cent of primary one children found to be overweight.

Obese children made up 12.6 per cent of the primary one population, with 7.8 per cent severely obese.

A spokesman for Midlothian Council said obesity was a complex issue often influenced by financial pressure and “inequality in society”. But he said the authority was taking actions to influence children’s eating habits, including helping voluntary organisations provide cooking and nutrition advice to parents and requiring childcare providers to give healthy snacks and outdoor activities.

Attempts to slim down youngsters in the Lothians have seen a raft of initiatives introduced in recent years. As the Evening News reported earlier this month, several private nurseries are encouraging tots as young as 18 months to take part in keep-fit classes under a new scheme called Stretch-n-Grow. NHS Lothian launched its Get Going programme in December 2010, which sees overweight children and their families offered personal training.

But in January it was revealed that more than a third of primary schools in the Capital were missing the target of giving pupils two hours of PE lessons a week, with almost two thirds of secondary schools also falling short.

Jill Cook, service manager for ParentLine Scotland, said she thought many parents were concerned about their children’s health but lacked the confidence to act.

“People do talk about their children being overweight and they don’t know how to deal with that. I think there’s a fear with parents letting their children out to play now. Parents also find it difficult to say ‘no’ to their children.”

Cath Morrison, senior health policy officer in public health medicine for NHS Lothian, said: “The figures have remained at a similar level over the past ten years, and Lothian is in line with the Scottish average.

“Our approach to tackling this issue includes prevention as well as treatment. These are long term programmes and we don’t expect to see the results overnight.”

• Last year there was a jump in [obesity] figures in Edinburgh, which was a bit surprising because there have been big initiatives, so we were expecting to see drops – so maybe they’re just appearing now.

In Edinburgh, there have been initiatives in healthy eating, and there’s a lot of training and huge investment over the last ten years with early years workers, even in the private sector.

The rise in Midlothian is interesting. There is an increase generally in the number of parents having to do two jobs during the recession and the more pressure parents are under, the less they think about feeding their kids and the less time they have to spend on it, so that might be having an effect.

The important message from my kind of work is that we shouldn’t blame the parents. There are usually real-life issues, like the recession, behind these things.

When people are poor, they can’t afford good food – healthy food is expensive. There’s been an upsurge in food co-ops and there used to be great innovators like that in Midlothian but perhaps they’re not having the impact they used to.