Council spending squeeze could hit campaign to reduce obesity

COUNCIL chiefs have warned that budget deficits mean work to reduce childhood obesity levels in one of Yorkshire’s most affluent cities could be worryingly scaled back in a decision branded “appalling” by rival politicians.

In a report to York Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee tomorrow, it is described as “very unlikely” that the local authority will be able to employ an officer dedicated to childhood obesity in the near future, despite it being described by North Yorkshire health chiefs as the single biggest issue facing the county in the coming years.

The announcement follows a decision to withdraw funding for a key post to take the lead on the issue within the council, as part of an earlier round of budget cuts.

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Strides have been made forward in recent years to tackle the issue of child obesity in York, with the number of reception age children at risk of obesity going down from 8.4 per cent to 7.5 per cent in the past four years. But for year six pupils, aged 11-12, there has been an increase during 2010/2011 with 14.7 per cent of children now considered at risk of obesity.

Fears have been raised that without the council’s Labour group putting more dedicated funding in place, the problem could begin to spiral in the coming years.

Coun Ian Gillies, leader of the Tory opposition on York Council, said: “Childhood obesity is a fundamental challenge, and while York does not have the same levels as other cities, it is imperative that we ensure that everything possible is done to prevent obesity increasing for the wellbeing of children, and to prevent future financial pressures on the public purse.

“For an administration to increase their cabinet and commit to millions of pounds of borrowing, not to allocate funds to the prevention of childhood obesity, is an appalling decision.”

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Coun Jim Clark, chair of scrutiny of health committee for North Yorkshire County Council who has called child obesity the single biggest health concern in North Yorkshire, says Department of Health (DoH) figures show obesity rates are doubling among children as they pass through primary school.

Health chiefs have warned that an annual bill of dealing with obesity in North Yorkshire is expected to reach £207m in 2015. As part of the NHS reforms, public health is being transferred to the responsibility of local authorities over the coming year.

York Council, which the report says despite the reduction in funding and capacity still routinely monitors childhood obesity and works to tackle it in schools, says it is also expected to imminently appoint a director of public health to ensure the issue remains at the forefront of its agenda.

The difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived 10 per cent of North Yorkshire’s population is 7.5 years for men and 3.6 years for women, while average male life expectancy in Scarborough is three years less than in Harrogate.

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Areas with significantly worse life expectancy are concentrated in Scarborough, Selby, central York and a few Harrogate wards. There is also a pocket of deprivation near Catterick Garrison.

Obesity is defined as occurring when a subject’s body mass index (BMI) – a measurement that compares your height against weight – is 30 or higher. Anyone with a BMI of between 25 and 30 is classed as overweight

Britain now has the highest rates in Europe, with 24.5 per cent of the adult population classified as obese. In 2010, A year-long study into the causes of childhood obesity in York found that a lack of exercise, a growing reliance on car travel and the surge in popularity of computer games as young people sit glued to TVs rather than playing outside have all contributed to the problems.

While poor diets and social deprivation have been blamed for childhood obesity in the past, there is growing evidence to suggest that more affluent lifestyles can also have a significant impact on obesity levels.