Childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate with NHS national figures showing that a quarter of children are overweight or obese by the time they start school. In 2011/2012 the number of reception aged children in Lambeth who were overweight or obese was 22.7 percent, just above the national average of 22.6 percent. For Year 6 students, the average in Lambeth was 38.9 percent, also higher than the UK average of 33.9 percent.
As part of the national obesity prevention program Mind Exercise Nutrition Do (MEND), which started in 2004 and has over 200 programs across the country running each term, Lambeth Council program Ready, Steady, Go, was introduced to tackle this problem head-on, Ready Steady Go co-ordinator Cheryl Duncan says.
In tailored weekly sessions, separated into two age-groups of four to six year-olds and seven to twelve year-olds, parents and children are taught about nutrition while children are given the opportunity to exercise and be active.
“On a grand scale we really needed something in Lambeth for the overweight children in our borough,” Cheryl says. “Obesity is a big problem but in our first year we feel like this program is starting to make an impact”.
“The way it’s laid out has made it easy for parents and children to understand. Children are actually really clever and we’re putting the onus on them as much as their parents,” Cheryl explains. “I’ve found there are a lot of misconceptions, myths and misunderstandings that people have about diet and nutrition and we’re just trying to help it all make sense for people.”
The seven to twelve age-group meets for two one-hour evening sessions a week while the four to six age-group has just one weekly, two-hour meeting.
Funded by the NHS Lambeth, the program is completely free, though public interest and involvement is needed for them to continue. The sessions run in Norwood and Vauxhall. People who are interested can self-refer and sign themselves up by visiting: http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/
Leading by example
Anneka Peters and her ten year-old daughter Tiane Peters-McLeod started Ready Steady Go last September and are returning this term just for the exercise sessions and for Anneka to share her experiences with other parents. “My daughter really enjoyed it, we met a lovely group of children and parents and for her it was about taking control of the problem,” Anneka explains. “Tiane is at an age now where she can make her own choices so it’s important she has the right information to do that”.
“My daughter is very confident and she’s not bothered about her weight, she doesn’t get bullied, she’s not depressed, but I think this is a good thing to deal with now for her future wellbeing,” Anneka continues. “That transition from primary to secondary school is very hard for girls and I don’t want her to be worrying about her weight or getting bullied, so I wanted to do this with her and support her”.
So far the Mum from Kennington is pleased with the results and says Tiane, who attends St Mark’s school in Kennington, has lost weight from around her stomach, which was her main problem area. “It’s not so much about losing weight, more just being healthy overall”.
Ready Steady Go’s nutrition course was particularly enlightening, Anneka says. “We’ve both learnt a lot about what we shouldn’t be eating. The fat and sugar content in a lot of packaged foods was the main surprise to me and we’re more aware of this now”. While she didn’t read labels before and believed products advertising themselves as “lighter” options, Anneka’s shopping trips take her twice the amount of time as she reads the ingredients and nutritional information now.
Teaching kids to read labels was also a useful skill the program taught; “now my daughter goes to the shops and she knows what she’s looking for and understands it, which is much better than me just telling her,” Anneka says.
Anneka’s biggest problem before the program was portion control, she has now realised. “I now see where I was going wrong; I was definitely giving my daughter too much food. We eat a lot less now,” she says. “I’m not a mother that buys crisps and biscuits, those kinds of foods are not in my house, but our main change is having a lot more fruit and vegetables and fresh foods”.
The Mum and daughter have also taken a more active approach to their lifestyles going on bike rides and walks a few times a week; Tiane is starting tennis lessons and Anneka regularly does zumba.
“Taking in all the new information you learn at Ready Steady Go can be a bit daunting at the start but you do get there by the end and it definitely helps as you go on with your day-to-day life”.