Childhood obesity: Here's why a healthy lifestyle scheme in North Yorkshire is set to be axed

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A well-regarded scheme designed to help North Yorkshire children and their families make positive changes to their diet looks set to be axed following swingeing government cuts.

North Yorkshire County Council’s leading members will on Friday consider decommissioning the Healthy Choices programme it launched with the NHS four years ago to tackle one of the most serious public health challenges.

Last year it was found 17 per cent of children leaving the county’s primary schools were classed as obese and a further 14 per cent were found to be overweight.

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The scheme has seen parents given “a proactive feedback phone call” and each family that goes on to take part in the programme is offered a free 12-week programme, which is delivered locally by a healthy lifestyle advisor within the family home or at a community setting.

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After completing the course 80 per cent of youngsters have seen marked weight reductions.

One parent of a teenage girl who went through the programme last year said: “It’s very sad indeed this scheme is coming to an end as it provided my daughter with knowledge and advice that she just wouldn’t have accepted or wanted to hear from her parents.

“Weight with teenagers in particular is a sensitive subject and if the one-to-one sessions are stopped, or replaced by group-only sessions, it will be a lot less attractive for many.”

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The local authority said it was expecting its £24m public health budget to be cut by up to £4m by the government and to balance the books was “going through every line” of the grant to see where savings could be made with the least impact.

The council’s director of health and adult services, Richard Webb, said while cutting the Healthy Choices scheme would help towards a recurring £650,000 annual saving, about £3m more savings needed to be identified.

Ahead of launching a public consultation over proposals for phased changes to services in the spring, he said the issue was exacerbated by North Yorkshire receiving a relatively low amount of public health funding as its grant was based on the amount that had been spent in the county before public health was handed to the council to manage.

The council, he said, would examine how it provides five contacts with health visitors for children up to the age of five and could, for example, target face-to-face support for families facing challenges.

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He said: “There is some debate, not just here, but nationally about are mandated visits the right way to support babies and children in their development.

“Healthy Choices is not the only way we can tackle the healthy weight issue. Some of the other things we do have a greater impact. For example, we’re looking at school readiness to boost support to parents at early stages.”

When pressed on whether the cuts could expose some children to risk, Mr Webb said risk assessments would be carried out and that the county had one of the most comprehensive children and young people’s services in the country.

He said: “We will still have services that support healthy weight and tackle obesity.

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“Any reduction in the public health grants makes doing interventions more difficult. It’s not what we would want to see.”

Mr Webb said while it was possible the council’s mainstream budgets could be used to support public health schemes, the authority was lobbying government over the funding cut.

He added: “Public health needs to be properly funded. It’s the unfinished business of the NHS plan.

"If government is ambitious about prevention and about community service then it needs to fund public health. But we have a plan for the reality. We will try and make changes while continuing to provide as much support to people as possible.”