SUNDERLAND youngsters are among the fattest in the country, the Echo can today reveal.
And in one city ward, a quarter of reception age children – four and five-year-olds – are overweight or obese.
While across Sunderland, 21.1 per cent of Year Six children – 10 and 11-year-olds – are fighting weight issues, well above the national average of 18.7 per cent.
The areas which have the highest levels of childhood obesity are Millfield, Hetton, Castletown and Washington Central.
But it is in the Sandhill ward where the biggest concerns are, where one-in-four reception age youngsters are deemed overweight.
The figures come amid calls for fizzy drinks to be heavily taxed and junk food adverts banished until after the watershed.
Nicola Young, specialist weight management dietician at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “There is no one answer to this, but a lot of it has to start with education at an early age.”
In a bid to tackle the problem, GPs, school nurses and other health professionals in the city have referred more than 160 families to the Lifestyle, Activity and Food programme (LAF) based at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
The programme aims to help support and guide families in areas including preparing a balanced meal, taking regular exercise and teaching them the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Sunderland’s Child Poverty Needs Assessment identified a correlation between low income and a greater risk of obesity.
With 45 per cent of Sunderland residents living within 20 per cent of the most disadvantaged areas across England, rates of childhood obesity are soaring.
Professor Stephen Singleton, interim chief executive and medical director for NHS North of England, said: “We know that obesity often leads to more serious health problems later in life, such as diabetes and cancer and increases the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.”
Wearside’s adults aren’t fairing much better in the fat-stakes with 3,456 being referred by their GPs to the city’s Exercise Referral Programme, dubbed fitness on prescription.
In total, a quarter of adults in the city are now overweight or obese.
Millions of pounds is spent each year on Wearside tackling the growing problem but dieticians say simple factors like learning to cook a meal could make the world of difference.
According to Sunderland’s latest statistics, current levels of obesity in the city are higher than the national average, with 24.1 per cent of men overweight and 24.9 per cent of women.
Fat adult hotspots include Silksworth, Millfield, Pallion, Redhill and Washington North.
Ms Young, who works with adults to tackle their weight problems, said: “Financial issues, a lack of cooking skills, poor dietary choices are all factors that need to be addressed.
“We have regular clinics at Sunderland Royal Hospital, one-to-one meetings with people and group sessions.
“This is a big problem that needs to be tackled but there is no one solution to it.
Fat Wearsiders cost the NHS £4.6million in weight-loss surgery in 2011. Growing demand for the surgery has led to the Sunderland Royal Hospital carrying out hundreds of gastric band/bypass operations.
At the end of last year, the hospital featured on an ITV documentary called Weight Loss Ward, examining the obesity crisis in the region.
But the city’s fitness industry also says it has seen an increase in those with significant obesity problems.
Mark Banks runs Fitness Bank in Ashbrooke. He said: “Worst case scenario, I have had people who are 23st or 24st coming in here.
“We are also dealing with more younger people who are trying to tackle their weight problems.”