Today we are launching a new campaign, focusing on giving Cumbrian children the best possible start in life.

Childhood obesity statistics in the county are among the worst in England - and rising faster than other areas.

If it continues at the current rate, almost half of all children will be overweight or obese by the age of 11 - putting them at risk of serious health problems and low self esteem.

It is a stark picture, but one we can change if the will is there - and we all work together.

Our 'Healthy Start, Healthy Future' campaign - run by CN Group - will focus on the positive work that is being undertaken across Cumbria to tackle obesity and encourage more families to get fit and healthy.

This week's Healthy Weight Summit, organised by public health bosses, aims to kick-start efforts to end obesity, issuing a call to action to everyone from parents to food companies.

We need to understand the reasons these trends have emerged, but we also need positive action to turn things around.

We are today committing to support these efforts by championing communities and celebrating success stories from across Cumbria.

All of our children deserve a great future, so let's help ensure they have every possible opportunity of a healthy start in life.

Worrying childhood obesity trends in Cumbria are prompting urgent action. Today we look at the true extent of the problem ahead of a crucial summit focusing on how it can be tackled:

Childhood obesity rates in Cumbria are rising faster than other parts of England - with predictions that 40 per cent of 11-year-olds in the county will soon be overweight.

There are even fears that children as young as 12 are now developing Type 2 diabetes - a serious health condition usually only seen in adults - as a direct result of their weight.

The situation in Cumbria is now so serious it has triggered a countywide response, with a dedicated Healthy Weight Summit to take place later this week.

Friday's event has been set up by Colin Cox, director of public health at Cumbria County Council, following a series of reports about the rise of obesity, particularly in children.

Latest figures from the National Child Measurement Programme show there are problems in all parts of the county.

Almost a third of reception-aged children in Barrow and Carlisle are classed as overweight or obese.

By year six, it is more than 30 per cent in all Cumbrian wards - rising to over 40 per cent in Copeland, nearly 39 per cent in Barrow, more than 36 per cent in Carlisle and 34 per cent in Allerdale.

But it is not just the current figures that are a concern.

Mr Cox said there is also a worrying trend affecting Cumbria specifically.

Nationally the percentage of overweight four and five-year-olds has stayed roughly the same since 2013. But here it is growing.

“We measure children in reception, at the age of four or five, then again at 10 or 11 before they start secondary school.

"In Cumbria, the rise in obesity at the age of five has been dramatic over the last four years. If we continue at the rate we are going we are looking at more than 40 per cent of children being overweight or obese by the time they hit year six," he warned.

Being overweight in childhood can lead to long term health problems, meaning a bad diet now can have a lifelong impact.

It can exacerbate conditions such as asthma in youngsters and lead to low self-esteem, low confidence and bullying - potentially leading to mental health problems as children grow older.

It can also cause dental problems and Type 2 diabetes.

The latter is usually associated with overweight adults - but there are signs that teenagers are now being diagnosed.

Mr Cox said: "Across the country we are seeing that now.

"Type 2 diabetes used to be called late onset diabetes because nobody got it until they were adults. That’s not the case now.

"We don’t have figures for Cumbria but there is evidence nationally of cases in children as young as 12.

"That has a very significant impact on their lives.

"It changes what they can do, what they can eat, and can lead to problems with vision and circulation and ultimately can lead to loss of limbs.

"We have figures for diabetes, but not by age group. However we know it is happening."

Mr Cox said childhood obesity - and obesity generally - has been identified as a public health priority for Cumbria.

The summit aims to get a wide cross-section of people - including health staff, teachers, childcare workers, leisure centre staff, food producers and suppliers - in one room to focus on this issue.

The event will look at the reasons more and more children in Cumbria are starting school with excess weight and ultimately discuss what needs to be done to reverse that worrying trend.

Mr Cox said it is not a simple problem - and there is no easy answer.

“We do not know exactly why," he added. "There are lots of reasons.

"The food people eat is key. Portion size is crucial so we need to get food manufacturers to think about portion size.

"Sugar consumption is a significant issue.

"There are other factors, like more sedentary lifestyles; however, for me, food and diet is the most critical part of this.

“When you look at how much you’ve got to exercise to burn off excess calories, it’s much more about not taking them on board in the first place.

"We have to look at how we can do that."

Mr Cox said that a big part of the problem is that, in recent years, wider waistlines have become more commonplace.

“We need to change the perception of what’s normal," he added.

"Because we’ve got such a significant rate of obesity - you are talking two thirds of adults being overweight or obese - that perception of what’s normal has shifted.

"Suddenly being overweight or obese in adulthood is normal, but that doesn’t make it good or healthy.

"If people are comparing their children to others they might think they are not doing too bad, but actually that might not be the case."

The National Child Measurement Programme checks the height and weight of every child in reception and again at year six.

It then uses the same formula, based on Body Mass Index (BMI), across the country to calculate local rates of obesity.

It is carried out in schools, though parents can opt out if they do not wish their child to be involved in the study.

They then get a letter explaining how they can find out their child's result should they wish to.

At no point are an individual child's results made public.

The scheme is generally well-received, but does get some criticism over the way it is calculated, with some believing BMI is not the best way.

However Mr Cox said it is an accurate reflection.

Although it is based on BMI, he explained that is not a simple comparison of weight and height.

It also looks at charts used to analyse children’s growth patterns.

Mr Cox said that what matters most is that the same system is used in each area, and they now have many years' worth of results.

This means they can properly compare and predict trends.

“We have got a good uptake in schools," he said.

"We do not get many people opting out. When you feed back the results to parents, you will always get some people who disagree but generally speaking I don’t think there is a problem.

“It’s a pretty good indicator. You will hear people say BMI is not that accurate because it doesn’t take into account muscle mass.

"That’s right, and you will see professional bodybuilders who have high BMI because of the amount of muscle.

"But for most people it’s a pretty good measure and for children, you don’t have that level of muscle anyway.

"It’s an indicator that should be used with some sense."

Going forward, he said there needs to be a combination of local initiatives, better education for parents and national action.

He said he does have sympathy with parents.

“I know this can be really hard. There can be a lot of mixed messages about what makes a good diet," he added.

"My message would be to keep it simple.

"Eating less sugar is key. You don’t need to get into a really complex diet.

"It’s just about eating the right amount to maintain a healthy weight, high in fruit and vegetables. Even small changes can make a difference.

“There’s something about just being switched on to this. If you take action early enough, it doesn’t take much to change it.

"When you put a lot of weight on it is harder, but it’s still possible to make those changes."

  • Tomorrow, in part two of our childhood obesity series, we look at what is happening before children start school to make them gain weight - and what can be done to change it.