Thousands of overweight youngsters across Scotland have been placed on slimming programmes in recent years after their GPs or school staff stepped in to try and help them lose weight.
Almost 17,000 children between the age of five and 15 have been given healthy weight interventions over the last three years, official figures yesterday revealed. The number of “interventions” has been on the rise, prompting concerns about how widespread the problem is.
Youngsters at risk are identified at their primary school health check or if GPs or school nurses decide to step in. They can also be referred by their parents.
Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Obesity is the next great public health challenge, and it’s imperative we identify problems as early as possible.
“The fact that nearly 17,000 children have had to receive these interventions shows just how widespread the issue is.
“At least these youngsters will now have a chance to change their lifestyle and diet at an early stage, and that behaviour may well rub off on the rest of the family.
“And while it’s good to see the NHS becoming involved, we can’t forget that ultimately obesity is generally an issue of personal discipline and responsibility.”
A healthy weight intervention can include a number of approaches, including one-to-one sessions with health professionals providing advice on nutrition and exercise to both children and parents.
A total of 16,820 interventions took place between April 2011 and March 2014, exceeding the 14,910 target originally set by the Scottish Government.
Nearly half of those children were from deprived areas.
The cost of handing out drugs to treat both obesity and diabetes has soared in recent years to nearly £80 million.
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Jim Hume said the figures are a “timely reminder” as the nation focuses on sporting success at the Commonwealth Games.
Mr Hume said: “It is bittersweet news that our health boards have helped 16,820 children. However these may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
Last year, the Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report Card suggested that levels of obesity among young people are at a record high. It co-incided with the Scottish Health Survey which found at least 16 per cent of two to 15-year-olds were classed obese in 2011 with levels among children and adolescents higher than at “any time in our history”, largely because youngsters take too little exercise.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Far too many of us and our children remain overweight. We have taken direct action, offering clear, helpful and supportive advice to help children stay at a healthy weight.”
The Scottish Government is also promoting healthy food options – particularly to young people and has set a target of all primary children having two hours of PE lessons a week.