NHS statistics have revealed that parents of obese and overweight children think their child is the right weight, and that just over a fifth of children are as active as they need to be to maintain a healthy weight.

The Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England (published by NHS Digital on 4 April) revealed that one in five children in Year 6 and 1 in 10 children in Reception are classified as obese.

The statistics found that parents of overweight and obese children think their child is the right weight, with fathers more likely to think this than mothers (41 per cent of mothers with obese children said their child was about the right weight or too light, compared to 55 per cent of fathers with obese children).

Meanwhile a new report before Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board has said almost a third of children in North Wales are overweight when they start school.

Figures show that 28.6% of children aged four to five in North Wales have been found to be overweight when they are starting school with the numbers for obese children above the average in England where 9.6% of children in reception classes were found to be obese last year.

The report said steps need to be taken included cutting the amount of screen time children get by lowering the amount of time that young children have using devices like mobile phones, tablets and televisions.

The report written by Sarah Andrews, Principal Public Health Practitioner and Siobhan Adams, Consultant in Public health, warned that when people are overweight as youngsters they will often stay so into adulthood with health problems as a result.

The report read: “Obesity in childhood leads to significant health issues across the life course, and some areas of North Wales have the highest prevalence of childhood obesity in the UK. Wales has the highest prevalence of maternal obesity of all the UK countries.

The health board has a three year plan to tackle childhood obesity which set out steps that can be taken to make improvements.

These include increasing breastfeeding rates, encouraging families to plan to be healthier, limiting screen time and telling families that water and milk are the only drinks that children need.

The report said: “In North Wales 28.6% of children starting school (aged 4-5 years) are overweight or obese, including 12.3% obese. Studies have shown that once these children are obese the vast majority are still obese years later, and likely to continue into adulthood. Obesity prevention therefore has to start very early in life to be effective.”

One charity looking to combat these statistics is Living Streets who are campaigning to increase the number of school children walking to school. They are urging parents to pledge to walk to school during Walk to School Week (21 – 25 May 2018) to help in the fight against childhood obesity.

Jenni Wiggle, Director of Local Impact, Living Streets said: “Childhood obesity is one of the biggest health threats facing the UK. "Swapping the school run for a school walk is an easy way for families to fit more activity into their day and take the fight against obesity into their own hands.”

The Government has recognised the importance of increasing the number of children walking to school with a commitment in the obesity strategy to setting a ‘clear target to increase the number of children walking to school’. Schools can use their recently doubled PE and Sport Premium budget, funded by the ‘Sugar Tax’, to invest in active travel initiatives; such as classroom packs for Walk to School Week.

Ms Wiggle added: “There is so much attention put on the ‘sugar tax’ and eating better that we can be forgiven for forgetting that moving more is also part of the solution to childhood obesity.

“Walking to school not only helps children to maintain a healthy weight but is also great for their mental wellbeing and can help reduce harmful air pollution around school gates by taking cars off the road. It should be considered as one of the best options to improve our children’s health.”

Experts advise that children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day to stay healthy, but only 20 per cent of five to 15 year olds are achieving this, and one in three children leaves primary school obese or overweight.

Issues such as traffic speeds, pavement parking and congestion around the school gates can put parents off walking to school. prompting Living Streets Cymru to complete a project on behalf of the Welsh Government to carry out School Route Audits of walking routes around three primary schools to identify issues which might be preventing families from walking to school.

Since the audits, improvements have already been made, including markings repainted outside schools, litter picks as well as the introduction of Walk to School Week to increase and monitor walking rates, and the Welsh Government also commissioned the charity to develop a toolkit so other schools, local authorities or community groups can carry out their own review of walking routes and see how they might be improved.

Rachel Maycock, Wales Manager, Living Streets said:“Creating safe walking routes and encouraging more children to walk to school is vital if we are to successfully tackle high levels of inactivity and help our children develop healthy habits for life.

“We know that a lot of parents are put off walking to school because of high levels of traffic outside the school gates. The more of us walking to school, the safer conditions will be, so we’re asking families to give walking a go for Walk to School Week.

“Living Streets have developed the School Route Review Toolkit so that more people can get involved in improving the walking environment around schools. We’ve used our experience from the audits at these three schools to develop case studies, look at the issues that stop people from walking to school and show what can be possible when a community comes together to increase walking.”

Parents and carers that pledge to take part in this Living Streets’ Walk to School Week will be sent ideas on how to make the walk to school safer, easier and more enjoyable. And, as an extra incentive, everyone who pledges will go into a prize draw to win £40 shopping vouchers.

Pledge to walk to school this May: https://www.livingstreets.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaigns/pledge-to-walk-to-school-this-may