THE number of children starting school in Cumbria overweight or obese has fallen for the first time in four years, a meeting has heard.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s director of public health, said the proportion of children of reception age overweight or obese had dropped from 28 per cent to 26 per cent.

It represented a “significant reversal” of the trend which had risen over the last four years.

It arrives a year after work by councils in Cumbria to spread a “healthy weight” message.

However, the percentage of children in year six – or the last year of primary school – who were overweight or obese had remained the same, he said.

Mr Cox told a meeting of the Cumbria Health and Wellbeing Board: “I am fairly hopeful that if we can carry on with our work around healthy weight those sorts of reductions we have seen will continue in future.”

Helen Horne, chairwoman of Healthwatch Cumbria, said some councils were limiting licensing for food outlets in certain areas, including takeaways.

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young, who chairs the board, said it was a good idea but there were “legal implications” of doing so.

He said: “This would involve district councils changing their planning policy which would allow them to turn down applications for food outlets in certain circumstances.”

Lawrence Conway, chief executive of South Lakeland District Council, said there was a new effort by councils to see what they could do to help.

He said: “From a district council’s perspective, we are now looking at how we are able to initiate changes that might have an impact on this.

“The reduction in reception age children starting school overweight or obese is a really powerful statement of the work that is happening.”

Colin Glover, leader of Carlisle City Council, said it had brought in a policy which prevented “street trading” within 100 metres of a school entrance, and suggested other councils in Cumbria could follow suit.

Pat Bell, the Liberal Democrat cabinet member for health and care in the county, said members of the public who had been through programmes to lose weight, often wanted to convert other people to the lifestyle benefits of doing so.