Childhood obesity 'a tough nut to crack' in South Tyneside - concerns as issue comes under spotlight

Councillors have highlighted education, physical activities and healthy eating as key to helping address the rising number of overweight and obese children in South Tyneside.

It came as South Tyneside Council officers outlined how healthy living is a priority for the area, stressing the importance of exercise and a balanced diet.

The latest meeting of West Shields, Cleadon and East Boldon Community Area Forum (CAF) heard they have seen a “rising rate of obesity and overweight levels within children”.

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Ellie Forrester, council public health practitioner, reported in the CAF area 34.9% of children start school either overweight or obese, rising to 48% for Year 6 pupils in the region.

There are concerns over the issue of childhood obesity in South Tyneside.

However she noted this covers the period from 2020/21, when many young people were hit by lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

She added: “I think this demonstrates the positive impact that schools can have on helping children to maintain a healthy lifestyle, while also outlining the negative impact Covid and lockdowns have had on children’s weight.”

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Plans in place include schemes encouraging children and families to walk to school, initiatives to get children playing outdoors safely, and programmes encouraging healthy eating.

Ms Forrester added: “Providing people with that education in terms of the ingredients you need, it’s cheaper than going to the local pizza shop and picking up a pizza.”

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Facilities such as the Temple Park Centre were also highlighted as being key, with the council currently having more than 6,900 leisure memberships, a 94.3% recovery from the impact of Covid-19.

Councillors on the forum praised facilities on offer, but stressed more still needs to be done to promote certain areas, such as making the most of open spaces, parks and coastlines.

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Cllr Ian Forster said: “I still think the hardest nut to crack overall is to get children, regardless of what household they live in, to spend the time being more active instead of just on phones and computer games.”

Cllr Doreen Purvis, Whiteleas ward representative, said they must also be aware of the impact of poverty and the need to do all they can to encourage healthy eating outside of school.

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She said: “Children go home on a tea time and their mam gives them the coppers to go and get a bag of chips and curry sauce because that’s the easy and cheap option.

Poverty is such a dispiriting process, and it’s about mental health as well. You don’t know how to make ends meet, you’re fed up to your back teeth.”

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The comments were made at the latest meeting of the CAF on Thursday, April 21, at South Shields Town Hall.