TACKLING childhood obesity is top of the agenda for health bosses across Bolton.

Just last week a government study revealed an 11-year-old Bolton girl who weighs almost 23 stone was among the heaviest children measured in the country.

Figures released in April showed that more than one in five schoolchildren in Bolton — 21.2 per cent of Year 6 children — are obese.

This meant that Bolton had one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country as England’s obesity rate stands at 19 per cent.

Now new figures show that the average among Year 6 pupils has dropped to 20.7 per cent and it is thanks to preventative initiatives and projects that these figures are decreasing.

But what daily challenges do these children face and what is being done to help them?

Chris Greaves is a paediatric dietician and works on the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust’s Children’s Healthy Weight team.

He says the key to improving children’s health is about positive activities and education.

Mr Greaves said: “There are so many challenges for these youngsters. Some of them come to us and say they are the fattest person their friends know and that’s a horrible thing for a young person to feel.

“When they first come to see us they initially chat about what they have to eat. The most important thing is to make them feel comfortable.

“Often the problem is down to their environment and to be honest, it is surprising that more of us are not overweight.

“Most of us lead a sedentary lifestyle and as human animals we are meant to roam for eight-to-10 miles a day.

“One third of 11-year-olds are overweight and it’s surprising more are not. The problem is that the food available to kids is so calorie high. A lot of them don’t realise that a McDonald’s meal contains more than 1,000 calories.

“But you can’t always blame it on the parents. For example in more deprived areas such as Farnworth, around 50 per cent of people are overweight and that is just considered as normal. Plus it is a very difficult issue for people to talk about, even parents, because it is so sensitive and that’s part of the problem.

“It is even difficult for health professionals approach the subject.

“And there’s the issue of advertising and how these calorie high products are portrayed, such a Lucozade. Even the Olympics was sponsored by McDonald’s and Coca Cola.”

The Children’s Healthy Weight team sees youngsters on a voluntary basis and run a 12-week programme in Farnworth where children attend two sessions a week.

Half of the sessions are spent learning about nutrition and food groups and the second hour is spent doing physical activity.

“Our project is about motivation and improving confidence,” added Chris.

“It’s my job to get kids passionate about being healthy, not saying you should eat less. It’s amazing to see the transformation of some of the kids when they get their confidence back.”

Mum Tracy Wills took her daughter Sophie-Leigh Jones Wills to see the Healthy Weight Team when she was concerned about her daughter’s appetite.

Tracy, aged 36, of Breightmet, said: “I initially took Sophie-Leigh to the GP because I thought she might have diabetes. She has always drunk excessively and I was just concerned. That’s how we found out about the Healthy Weight Team.

“I’d never introduced her to chocolate and it wasn’t the type of food she ate, more the amount she ate. It was like she could never accept she was full up. It was difficult also because Sophie-Leigh is so active. What I needed was the support and I just thought this can’t go on.

“The Healthy Weight Team were fantastic and we both went on the course. They make it really fun for the children, even when describing all the different food groups.

“It’s not about how big or thin the children are, it’s about learning how to be healthy and active and I think the government should focus more on that. Sophie-Leigh loved it too and I think now she has a much better understanding of what to eat within her diet.”

Sophie Leigh, who will be going into Year 6 at St Osmunds RC Primary School in September, said: “I really liked the cooking sessions and the dancing, boxing and swimming. I really liked the teachers too.”

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