Uncertainty if Luton's child obesity service can cope with growing demand for help

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'They grow up to be overweight teenagers and adults, so that early intervention and prevention is important'

A national child weight measurement programme ends too soon leaving Luton teenagers to fend for themselves, a meeting heard.

Child obesity is on the rise in the town and is an issue nationally, the borough council's scrutiny children's services review group was told on March 1.

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The local authority has a child healthy weight strategy which runs to 2023, according to senior commissioning manager for the public health team, Michelle Bailey.

Childhood obesity (Getty Images)Childhood obesity (Getty Images)
Childhood obesity (Getty Images)

"We're updating an action plan, following concerns raised by the current picture," she said. "It's a key public health priority as it can impact on their education.

"They grow up to be overweight teenagers and adults, so that early intervention and prevention is important at all levels.

"They're more susceptible to and have increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, cancer, and other comorbidities and health concerns.

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"So it's a real worry to us to make sure the right strategy, and prevention and intervention measures are in place."

Schools reported an increase in children being overweight after lockdown and Christmas, according to Ms Bailey.

"We've some proactive and concerned headteachers trying to engage the parents and our wellbeing services to offer some support.

"Covid had a big impact on children's health and wellbeing. Some of our families don't have access to gardens or outdoor space, so there's that lack of physical activity as well as access to unhealthy sugary foods."

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Children can be referred to a diet and nutrition team at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital.

"But we've increasing numbers and are unsure that service can cope with the demand," she warned.

"We're looking at our wellbeing services which have our child weight management programmes.

"We've some behavioural services, family therapists, dieticians and paediatricians to make sure we offer the right levels of support for children.

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"The picture is the same nationally, as a report showed the biggest increase in child obesity since the national measurement programme began in 2006."

Independent group member Dr Mohammad Alramahi wondered if there were different statistics by ethnic group, asking: "Have we identified those ethnicities which are most at risk?

"Luton is a super diverse town. Have we a specific plan to target those children?"

Director of public health Sally Cartwright replied: "We can analyse this by ethnicity. We've just got the new data set and need to quickly prioritise tackling that emerging issue."

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Ms Bailey added: "Part of the action plan was around ethnicity and how we could work with different communities and people's varying environments.

"Every family will have a different take and understanding about healthy eating, so it's how we can offer a more targeted approach."

Liberal Democrat Crawley councillor Terry Keens wondered at what age obesity monitoring stops, saying: "It seems to me you're cutting off too soon. After the age of ten, children start to worry about their weight.

"It boils down to us not being geared up to look after our teenagers."

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Ms Cartwright said: "The national child measurement programme is statutory work where they measure reception and year six, which helps direct our actions and services.

"In Luton, we see a really big difference between reception and year six for the prevalence of obesity.

"We're above the national average in reception and increase that gap quite substantially above the national average in year six.

"Those identified overweight or obese are referred to weight management services and monitored through there, and there are school based activity programmes."

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