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Help needed for fat pupils

Poverty and obesity are linked. Jennifer Hawkins reports

American-style "fat camps" for children in the UK are too expensive for those who need them most, says a nutrition expert.

Dr Beckie Lang, research fellow in nutrition and obesity at Teesside university, said schools could be doing more to help overweight children for less money. A six-week residential course costs more than pound;2,000 per child.

She said: "Figures on obesity in children show that they come mostly from deprived areas and low-income families. These parents can't afford that kind of money.

"These camps are a good idea, but I don't know if they are the answer.

Perhaps we should be looking at day, after school or weekend camps. Schools could play a role and perhaps allow their premises to be used."

Dr Lang welcomed The TES Get Active campaign. "This is a great idea," she said.

"If teachers follow this they will be equipped to focus on healthy lifestyles and eating. Many schools give out a mixed message, promoting healthy living in the staffroom and selling rubbish in the canteen."

She is completing a small study for Teesside university on the possibility of starting a "fat camp" in the North-east, which would be available to children in deprived areas.

In the meantime, Dr Lang would like to see more initiatives such as the 20-session free programme offered to obese and overweight 10 to 15-year-olds by Tendring Primary Care Trust and Clacton Leisure Centre in Essex.

Last year, 38 local children were referred to the young people's exercise and referral scheme by GPs, school nurses and dieticians. This year the figure looks set to rise to 80.

Krishna Ramkhelawon, public health specialist at the primary care trust, is in talks with the leisure centre and 18 schools taking part in the Healthy Schools Initiative about starting after school clubs in the area.

He said: "We want to see this as a continuing, year-long scheme. At the moment the children can come in for 10 or even 30 weeks, but we want it to be there all the time, we really want schools to be on board with this scheme.

"There is a range of activities they can do such as tennis, archery and indoor games in an environment where they don't feel inadequate, which might be the case in a PE class."

Dr Lang said: "Studies have shown that school-based intervention has been highly successful in combating overweight, unhealthy lifestyles.

"I know schools do a lot to promote healthy eating and physical activity, but we need more. There is little out there for young people.

"Slimming clubs only cater for adults. Children really do have little help."

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