The changing lifestyles behind childhood obesity

The Anderson family - parents Donna and David, and children Ben, 11, and Charlie, 6. Photo: ITV News

High levels of childhood obesity in the North East have been linked to poverty and industrial decline - as well as changes to family lifestyles, and the easy availability of unhealthy foods.

On the second day of our 'Focus on Obesity' series, we are looking at the causes of the problem, hearing a GP's advice - and spending time with one family from Blyth in Northumberland, trying to set a good example for their children.

Watch today's coverage:

A public health problem

As we heard yesterday, more than a third of children in the North East are categorised as overweight or obese at the end of primary school - one of the highest rates of any area in the UK.

Read More: The scale of the North East's childhood obesity problem

Obesity is a really complex problem - and it's influenced by a lot of external factors. Where we live, where we work and play, the environment, what we see in our local shops, what we see in the media - all of those external things influence obesity. And we know that over the last 25 years those things have been driving us towards more sedentary lifestyles and over-consumption, particularly of sugar.

One of the things that's particularly difficult with obesity, as it becomes the norm in an area, it's really difficult for parents and health professionals to visually see where there is a problem.

– Catherine Parker, Public Health England North East
Exercise came easier for many children, in days gone by. Credit: British Pathe pictures

This is part of wider problems in public health in our region - closely associated with deprivation and the decline of heavy industry.

Blyth Miners' Memorial Garden highlights the post-industrial changes going on in many towns in the region.

Former mining towns and industrial communities have particularly high pockets of obesity among adults - attributed to manual labour being replaced by more sedentary jobs, and workers not compensating by increasing their exercise or reducing their diets.

We know that poverty is a problem in terms of obesity - because it's very easy to buy cheaper foods which are the unhealthiest foods often.

We're not getting enough help in areas where deprivation is manifest to be able to get subsidised healthier foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables - and to spend enough money on education to change the mindset of not just children, but of parents as well.

– Dr Hilary Jones, Health Editor for Good Morning Britain

Setting an example

Newsham Primary School in Blyth has won awards for its healthy lunches - and it now invites parents in once a month to eat with their children.

Headteacher Anne-Marie Armstrong says this raises awareness of the importance of eating well among both parents and children, and also the value of sitting down for a meal together.

Newsham Primary tries to involve parents in their children's school lunches from a young age.

Meet the Andersons

David and Donna Anderson have both struggled with their weight in the past.

David and Donna Anderson have both lost more than 3 stone since having their children.

They both work - and admit it is hard to to get their children - Ben, 11, and Charlie, 6, away from the television, and find time to make healthy dinners and sit down to eat them together - as well as getting enough exercise.

But their persistence seems to be paying off.


I would encourage parents to think of your child when they're very young. I would actually measure their weight every year to see if there's a trend that takes them out of the normal healthy range. If there is a departure from that healthy range, start to do something simple.

We can show an example - our children will copy the volume of food that we eat, and the type of food that we eat - and the amount of physical activity we take. So parents have a responsibility to show the healthy way.

– Dr Hilary Jones

Our series 'Focus on Obesity' continues tonight at 6pm on ITV Tyne Tees

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