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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 02:40 GMT
Making a healthy lifestyle fun
The push to halt the rise in childhood obesity is at risk of failing because of a lack of leadership from government, a report by three major public sector watchdogs has warned.

But on the ground local schemes are pioneering ways of reducing obesity. How are they doing it?

Swimming lesson
Community programmes aim to make exercise fun

Darren Debono weighed 20 stone at the age of 13 when he enrolled five years ago on the Carnegie Camp run by Leeds Metropolitan University.

At first he did not want to go to the summer weight loss camp, but he soon changed his mind when he started.

Nursery nurse Darren, now 18 and 16st, said: "I was always pretty big, but bullying started in the last years of primary school. I was tormented every day.

"Mum enrolled me on the camp, but I didn't want to go. In the end, I loved it. I could talk to people there and they understood because they'd been through it too. It was lots of fun and we had a real laugh.

"I tried all sorts of activities and I now go to the gym, I circuit train twice a week and I exercise at home in the morning and before I go to bed."

The secret to the Carnegie programme, it has now been expanded out to weekend and school courses, is to give people the knowledge, skills and strategy to lose weight.

You are not going to stop children going to McDonalds, but you can convince them to be sensible about it
Paul Gately, of Leeds Metropolitan University

Technical director Professor Paul Gately said: "We get children doing exercise and explain why that is important, but it goes much further than that.

"We also teach them about food. For example, there are cookery lessons where we get children to make healthy cakes that taste good. There is not point making cakes that don't taste nice.

"And we go to the supermarket and go through the nutritional value of foods. It is all about putting it in context. You are not going to stop children going to McDonalds, but you can convince them to be sensible about it."

The key, Professor Gately said, is empowering people to make the right choices.

Similar principles are applied at the Mend Programme run by the Institute of Child Health in London.

The community-based courses focus on improving diet, levels of exercise and behaviour.

Children are given tailored-exercise programmes, often based around games to make physical activity fun.

Families are also taught how to pick out nutritional foods quickly and how healthy food can be prepared.

Paul Sacher, founder of the programme which has been running for five years and involves the whole family, said: "The Mend Programme is about making healthy lifestyles fun, effective and practical.

"The key to its success is an integrated approach, combining all the elements known to be essential to both treat obesity effectively and ensure long lasting results.

"Of course, you need lead and direction from the top, but it is also about giving people the means to take control."

Warning over child obesity push
28 Feb 06 |  Health

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