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Childhood obesity: Making it easier for families to get it right

More than a third of children in England are overweight or obese by the time they finish primary school.

The numbers continue to rise, and the North East is one of the worst-affected areas, for reasons linked to poverty and industrial decline.

Dr Paul Williams, Stockton South MP and a practising GP on Teesside, told me it's "the biggest issue of our time."

The North East has some of the highest rates of obesity among children in the UK Credit: PA
  • So what can be done about it?

The government's due to publish a new childhood obesity strategy soon.

It may see bans on sweets around checkouts, cartoon characters promoting high-calorie food, and TV adverts for unhealthy products before 9pm.

This week, you've been getting in touch with many more suggestions:

  • Kath Woollen: Make healthy food cheaper - basic good food at a reasonable cost so those on tight budgets can buy it.
  • Vicky Carter: Why not roll out cooking courses to teach parents how to cook good homemade meals from scratch and on a budget?
  • Heather Field: All food outlets should have tables to sit at, eating and drinking while walking should become socially unacceptable. Think of it like smoking in public.
  • Alan McAffee: I would suggest that older child living less than two miles from a school be encouraged to walk - accompanied if necessary.
  • Alison Oliver: Why is this down to the government? Surely it's up to the parents. Don't buy rubbish food and your kids won't ask for it.

That last view is one shared by many. There is a 'nanny state' argument here.

How hard can it be to make sure you and your kids are getting plenty of exercise, and aren't eating too much bad food?

Very hard is the answer, for many under-pressure parents, with their children being bombarded by junk food opportunities.

  • We heard and saw that in our first 'Action on Obesity' report this week:

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Many experts say the children of today are victims of their environment. It's a consequence of the way we live: mobile phones and tablets rather than playing outside; convenience food rather than home-cooked meals at the table.

It is possible to cook in a relatively inexpensive, quick and healthy way, as dietitian Dawn Shotton showed the Alam family in Durham:

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But many families find it is simpler and cheaper to buy unhealthy food - and this is not always such a straightforward issue to confront.

There is a stigma around obesity. We hear of doctors struggling to talk to patients about their weight, and parents struggling to talk to children - for fear of turning it into a big issue, and making it all much worse.

You can make your own healthy changes of course. We met Middlesbrough mum Leanne Jones, who lost 15 stone by transforming her lifestyle:

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But there is recognition too, now, that wider changes are needed, far beyond the individual level.

Jamie Oliver's school dinners drive improved standards, 15 years ago.

Some supermarkets have now introduced free fruit for children.

And the tax on sugary drinks, which was announced two years ago and came into force in April, is already being seen as a success.

Whatever the details of the government's new strategy in the coming weeks, its focus must surely be on making it easier for ordinary families to get it right with their kids.