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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 10:13 GMT
Teaching families how to eat well
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Obesity graphic. Picture Caption: Paul Brown/SPL
Participants learn new lifestyles
Dillan Thornton is a changed boy.

A year ago he was overweight, the butt of taunts and miserable.

His parents were worried about his mental and physical health.

And enrolled him on an NHS programme to tackle his weight and self-esteem problems.


Today, nine-year-old Dillan, from Leeds is slimmer, happier and more confident and mother Donna Deacon is delighted.

"There was some name-calling at school because Dillan was overweight. But he had always been very active and has been playing rugby since he was five."

The thing about the course is it is not for the kids to lose weight, but to grow into their bodies
Donna Deacon

Donna said the course had educated her as well as Dillan.

"They talked to me about portion size.

"We also cut out fizzy pop, chips and mash.

"He now only has things like this on his rugby training nights, because he burns them off.

"The thing about the course is it is not for the kids to lose weight, but to grow into their bodies, although Dillan did lose 11 lbs."

When Dillan started the course his BMI - body mass index a method of measuring weight - was 25.9, which is classed as overweight, now it is 22.7 and in the normal range.

Donna said the family had moved Dillan to a new school, where no-one knew him as an overweight child and that this combined with his weight loss had made him much happier.

"I do feel good now," said Dillan. "I feel much better now I have lost the weight."


The NHS community programme, called Watch It! was developed and pioneered in disadvantaged areas of Leeds.

It has now been extended to Birmingham and Haringey in London.

It aims to motivate children, aged eight to 15, and their parents to lead healthier lifestyles by giving them individual and group help.

Boy being weighed. Picture Caption: Gusto Images/SPL
Children are being encouraged into sport

Children and teenagers sign up for a year's programme concentrating on physical activity, nutrition and emotional wellbeing.

Every six months they have hospital tests to see if their health and fitness levels have improved.

By six months many children have experienced a significant reduction in weight.

Professor Mary Rudolf, consultant community paediatrician, who developed the Watch It! programme, said about 180 children had completed the course so far, which has been evaluated by Leeds Metropolitan University.

The programme was originally designed for weight loss, but it seems to be doing so much more
Dr Maria Bryant

She said that, although the children had lost weight, the biggest change they had seen was in the child's quality of life.

"What was striking was that when we talked to the children they did not talk so much about their weight, but about how they felt.


Dr Maria Bryant, research fellow and Watch It! trial co-ordinator said: "The approach of Watch It! makes it completely different from a diet.

"No one's counting calories. It's all about offering practical advice and emotional advice, provided by people that both parents and children can talk to.

"We've had excellent results so far. Most encouragingly we received really good feedback on issues like self-esteem, morale and confidence.

"Children who didn't like PE are now joining sports clubs and making friends with other kids.

"The programme was originally designed for weight loss, but it seems to be doing so much more."

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