How Wakefield tackled childhood obesity and won

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Wakefield’s child obesity problem was so serious that it put the district among the worst in the country.

In 2010 a third of children aged four to five were classified as overweight, which was worse than the national average.

To respond to the crisis the council and NHS attacked the root of the problem to prevent children becoming overweight with a concerted effort to get them moving before the problem could take hold.

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And now, eight years on, that percentage has dropped to a quarter, which is in line with the rest of the country.

Eastmoor, Airedale, and the villages of Kinsley and Fitzwilliam were the areas chosen for the new approach as the council and Wakefield Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) jointly invested £2.5m.

It included road shows, getting people to pledge to make a healthy change, such as reducing consumption of sugary drinks and eating more vegetables, making improvements to play areas, arranging cookery classes and employing people in the community to set up physical activities.

David Sayer has volunteered as a physical activity champions for the past decade, helping people who are trying to lose weight, offering guidance and support.

He said: “When I’m working with people I always use the same phrase - ‘this is your new start’. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how big your house is, or if you live in a garden shed, we all need to keep moving.”

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He said the simple physical activity he promotes, which includes gym work, swimming and Nordic walking using poles, can be of vital importance not only to people who are overweight but elderly people and those with arthritis or other ailments.

He said: “At a Nordic walk we host in Pugneys Country Park we had a lady turn up on a zimmer frame. And after four months with the walking poles she managed to walk up Sandal Castle. On the Thornes Park walk we had a lady turn up on two walking sticks and we were able to use the poles to help her increase her mobility.

“We have absolutely seen real changes in people.”

Coun Jacquie Speight, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport at Wakefield Council, said: “Childhood obesity is a major health concern across the country. So it’s great that the work we’ve done is being recognised.

“Public Health England which advises the government on health is interested in the actions we’ve taken, the differences that have been made and the lessons learned, and the information could help other places that are facing similar challenges.

“What has been achieved so far is fantastic – we are proud of the results - but were are not complacent and are continuing to support people and help to support a healthy lifestyle.”

The most recent figures show that 25.2 per cent of children in reception year in Wakefield are overweight or obese, which is just slightly higher than the regional average of 22.2 per cent and the national average of 22.6 per cent.

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This figure increases to 35.9 per cent for children in year six.

It has been estimated that the obesity epidemic could cost the NHS an extra £45.5bn by 2050.

A programme to encourage physical activity has been introduced into schools, including Greenhill School in Wakefield.

Pupils take breaks in an outdoor adventure playground, with tunnels built into the banking around the grounds. The playground also includes a treehouse and ropes to climb on.

A series of walks at the districts’ park, some aimed at children others for adults, have been set up. One walk, at Anglers Country Park, includes wood-carved characters from a children’s book that have been placed along the route.

Another trail has since opened at Pugneys Country Park alongside a pirate-themed adventure playground. Visitor numbers the park have increased by 40,000 on previous year since it was opened.