SCHOOL pupils in South Tyneside are to be the target of an anti-obesity campaign.
Council bosses have revealed an ambitious 17-point plan aimed at tackling the borough’s ‘junk food generation’ – including a Healthy School Awards programme – as the emphasis switches away from adults and centres on support for children, particularly those in deprived areas.
It is estimated that 12.4 per cent of under-18s in the borough are obese, compared to an average of 9.9 per cent for England as a whole.
Among the adult population, 27.4 per cent are classed as obese, compared with a national average of 24.2 per cent.
The problem is costing the NHS in the borough £50.7m a year, a figure set to rise to £54.2m by 2015.
The schools award is aimed at promoting and highlighting nutritional excellence in schools and recognising those which take innovative approaches to getting pupils engaged in sport, exercise and healthy eating.
Examples could include ‘healthy’ tuck shops and ‘walking buses’, where pupils walk to school with volunteers, rather than travel there on a bus or in a car.
Coun Ernest Gibson, who chaired a council commission into the subject, cited Mortimer Community College in South Shields as an example of an innovative way forward.
He said: “Pupils there would go out at lunchtime and you could see them on Stanhope Road eating curry and chips, kebabs and cans of fizzy drinks. It was a junk food diet.
“That reliance on junk foods was taken away when the school stopped the children going out at lunchtime.
“It was an example followed by other schools.
“There are also a lot of activities at Mortimer to encourage exercise, which is essential these days when youngsters spend so much of their time on their computers or games consoles.
“We also want to see the re-introduction of sport and exercise taster sessions at our community centres.
“Instead of signing up for courses at great expense and then dropping out, these sessions would allow youngsters and adults to find out what activities they enjoy committing themselves.”
Claire Mullane, headteacher at Mortimer Community College, said that when the new school was built in 2009 a bespoke cafe was created specifically to encourage pupils to eat their during split lunchtimes.
She said: “A lot of the credit must go to our wonderful cook Eileen. Hot cooked meals are available and pupils can also bring in sandwiches.
“As a sports college we offer a wide variety of activities to keep pupils active.”
Members of the commission had expressed concern that Temple Park Leisure Centre in South Shields did not provide healthy food options – something which will be available at the town’s new foreshore swimming pool and leisure facility.
The council is also to promote healthy lifestyles in the workplace.
This will be particularly targeted at men who, research shows, are less likely to use support services.
The commission also called on the local authority to highlight establishments which sell healthy foods.
The findings come amid statistics which show that 25 per cent of reception class children are classed as overweight or obese and, by Year 6, that figure is 38 per cent.
The 17-point plan to fight obesity:
* Yearly report on obesity presented to a council committee.
* Obesity programme to place greater emphasis on health promotion and services for children, men, older people and black and minority groups.
* Greater health awareness in schools and reintroduction of Healthy School Awards.
* Raise awareness of the issue among school governors.
* Use the borough’s summer programme to provide exercise opportunities for young people.
* Approach local celebrities such as Joe McElderry and Josef Craig to be ‘lifestyle models’.
* Work with Academy schools to maintain nutrition standards.
* Work with young mothers to highlight healthy eating.
* Overcoming barriers faced by young mothers in accessing weight-related support.
* Develop a holistic and family-friendly approach.
* Promote walking as a healthy option.
* Train staff in motivational techniques.
* Train GPs in deprived areas about services available.
* Identify good practice among local authorities.
* The council actively to promote food outlets which provide healthy and nutritious food.
* Encourage healthy eating at workplaces.
* Audit of leisure services to ensure right help is available.