Children as young as four are being offered places on new healthy eating classes in St Helens in a bid to reverse a worrying rise in childhood obesity.
In the four years up to 2012/13 childhood obesity levels across the borough were on the decline, but the latest figures show an alarming upturn - with more reception children and Year 6 children now classed as obese.
In reception-aged children there was a 2.3 per cent increase, meaning more than one in 10 St Helens four-year-olds are now obese.
And that figure doubled by the time they reach Year 6, with more than one in five local 10-year-olds - 21.5 per cent - classed as obese.
St Helens’ director of public health, Liz Gaulton, said: “Children’s growth and development is really important for their health. Being overweight is a symptom of that growth being imbalanced.
“If children are overweight they are more likely to have health problems like diabetes and heart disease when they become adults. They can also become more worried about their appearance as teenagers. Some simple steps can make a difference to growing well.”
Top tips include being active, sticking to child-sized portions, eating healthy meals, drinks and snacks and getting less screen-time and more sleep.
Children are currently weighed and measured when they start reception and when they are in Year 6 at primary school, with their parents then sent a letter showing the result of their child’s measurements.
Parents are also sent information about healthy living and where to get further advice and support if they need it.
Now though, new Fit 4 Life courses are being aimed at local children, aged between four and 13, who are above a healthy weight.
The sessions, which start next month, will be held at Langtree Park with help from St Helens Council’s health improvement team and Saints Foundation coaches.
They are designed to help youngsters learn more about healthy eating, take part in fun activities, understand portion sizes and talk about junk food snacks and treats.
A Town Hall spokesman said: “The council is working with a range of partners across the borough to address the matter and collaborative initiatives are being developed as part of a locally agreed Healthy Weight Strategy throughout 2014.
“These include, new weight management programmes for both children and adults and a variety of approaches to tackling obesity and excess weight for early years and school age children - such as breast feeding support, weaning, family cooking sessions, active play and menu planning.”
If you are worried about your child’s weight, call 0300 300 0103 or go online at: www.healthimprovement.co.uk