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Fat epidemic 6 year olds

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'Fat epidemic' leaves one in 10 6-year-olds obese
By Celia Hall, Medical Editor
(Filed: 08/10/2003)

One six-year-old in 10 is now classed as obese and the "fat epidemic" in children is spreading at nearly one per cent a year, specialists said yesterday.

By the time children reach the age of 15 nearly one in five, or 18 per cent, are obese, according to the Health Development Agency.

In 2001, 8.4 per cent of six-year-olds and 15 per cent of 15-year-olds were obese.

Health experts called on parents to pay more attention to their children's diets.

Prof Mike Kelly, director of research and information at the agency said there were no signs that the upward trend was slowing down.

"This is why the problem is so significant," he said at the launch of a study of effective diet plans.

"Our individual choices are not the only cause of this tide of obesity," he added.

"We live in an 'obesogenic' environment - a plethora of fast food outlets, reliance on cars, and offers enticing us to eat larger portion sizes all contribute to the problem."

He said that new habits, with the support of parents and schools, could be adopted by children. He suggested walking to school and walking up stairs as ways of putting activity back into lives which were full of labour saving devices.

Dame Yve Buckland, chairman of the agency, said: "Obesity is a time bomb. A quarter of all women and nearly a fifth of all men are now classed as overweight or obese and one in 10 six-year-olds is obese."

She said that parents could make a "huge impact" on the rising levels of childhood obesity.

"Evidence shows that parent's can successfully treat their child's obesity by actively changing the whole family's approach to diet and physical activity and by avoiding couch potato lifestyles," she said.

She said that parents should challenge the powerful food markets: "The myriad of child-focused food advertising is a real challenge but parents can fight back.

"It is parents who fill the lunch boxes and who pay at the check-out, not their children."

The agency says that obesity kills about 34,000 people a year. It also says obesity costs the NHS an estimated 2.6 billion a year in treating conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. This figure is expected to rise to 3.6 billion by 2010.

The agency is working with the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) on advice on tackling obesity. Its report says that low calorie diets, and low fat diets are effective.

It adds that physical activity and diet, either singly or together, can achieve weight loss.

Melanie Johnson, the public health minister, said: "This review once again highlights how crucial prevention is and how simple the message is - that by helping people maintain a healthy diet and an active lifestyle we can stop them gaining weight in the first place.

"We also want to see much more progress from industry to reduce added levels of salt, fat and sugar in processed foods."

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