UP to 2,000 overweight children and their families in Wales will be offered free fitness classes and lessons on how to eat healthily on a budget in a bid to stave off dangerous levels of obesity.
About one in five 13-year-olds in Wales is classed as overweight, many of whom could become obese adults.
Now families are to take part in a 10-week course, which combines learning about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, and enjoying an active lifestyle.
The £1.4m scheme unveiled yesterday by the Welsh Assembly Government will target 2,000 children aged 7-13 across Wales, the first time this type of programme will have run on a national level in any country.
The aim is to help overweight or obese children manage their weight and become fitter, healthier and happier.
By international standards Welsh children are more overweight than other nations. But rather than focus on weight loss, the programme teaches parents, carers and children how to manage their weight.
The programme – Mind, Exercise, Nutrition... Do It! (MEND) was devised by experts in child health at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and the University College London Institute of Child Health.
More than half (57%) of adults in Wales are already overweight or obese.
The programme has already been piloted in four areas, including Flintshire and Conwy. From this month, courses will run in Anglesey and Gwynedd, Conwy and Denbighshire, Wrexham and Flintshire.
Eleven-year-old Catherine who attended a programme run in Flintshire, was bullied at her primary school. She felt self conscious at school because she was quite tall and a little above a healthy weight. Her anxiety lowered her self confidence.
But Catherine found meeting other children with similar issues reassured her, and she lost 6cm from her waist and reduced her body mass index over the 10 weeks.
Her mum Maxine said: “Since the programme Catherine has joined a fencing club and is much more active. Her confidence has greatly improved and she has enjoyed making new friends.”
Dr Tony Jewell, chief medical officer for Wales said yesterday: “Being overweight can be tough for children both physically and emotionally.
“Caring for an overweight or obese child can be difficult too, especially if they lack confidence or feel depressed because of their size. It’s vital we tackle the obesity issue.”
Paul Sacher, founder and research director, MEND, said: “Many parents of bigger children don’t realise their child is above the healthy weight range for their height and age, or put it down to ‘puppy fat’ that will disappear as their child grows older.
“However, being overweight or obese as a child is a serious condition.”