Obese children as young as two years old will be sent to NHS clinics to help them lose weight

Obese children as young as two years old will be offered targeted care to help them lose weight, as the NHS in England sets up a pilot of 15 new specialist clinics to combat an epidemic that costs the health service £6bn a year.

Around 1,000 children a year aged between two and 18, and experiencing health complications related to severe obesity, will receive tailored care packages developed with their family, which could include diet plans, mental health treatment and coaching.

Group sessions will be provided with a full clinical team, including support from dietitians, psychologists, specialist nurses, social workers, youth workers and a paediatrician to ensure all health needs of each child are met. As well as providing expert treatment, the services will identify the factors causing obesity in children, considering their mental and physical health.

Health officials say early action can prevent long-term health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and even cancer – which is better for patients and the NHS. Children who are severely obese can also develop difficulties such as breathing problems, sleep issues and mental health problems, which can dramatically impact their quality of life.

Obesity affects one in five children in the UK and the problem is growing. In England, the number of children living with obesity doubles from the start of primary school to the end of primary school – with latest data showing that one fifth of children aged 10-11 are obese.

Some 2.5 million children in England are affected by excess weight or obesity, with 1.22 million significantly obese and eligible for treatment according to official guidance. Obesity prevalence – including severe obesity – was more than twice as high in year 6 (21 per cent, which equates to 103,362 children) compared with reception (9.9 per cent – 39,404 children).

The 15 new centres will be based across the country in the following locations:

1. Derriford Hospital

2. Southampton University Hospitals

3. Kent and Medway CCG outreach clinic

4. East London (Kings College London Hospital and Bart’s Health NHS Trust)

5. West London (covered by Great Ormand Street Hospital, University Hospital London and Tavistock Hospital)

6. Addenbrooke’s Hospital

7. Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals

8. Birmingham Women and Children’s

9. Nottingham Children’s Hospital / Leicester Royal Infirmary

10. Sheffield Children’s Hospital

11. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

12. Manchester Children’s Hospital

13. Royal Preston

14. Leeds Teaching Hospital

15. South Tees Hospital

Lusanda, aged 17 from Dagenham, was severely obese, taking medication for high blood sugar levels and struggling with liver problems. In 2019, he was referred to the Surgical Weight Management service for Young People at King’s College Hospital in order to address the health complications he was experiencing – but with support from dieticians, his family was able to support him to lose 40kg (six stone) without surgery.

Lusanda’s mother, Hettie Sizibo, said: “Lusanda has autism and some learning difficulties, which means he doesn’t understand when he is hungry or full and he puts on weight very easily. He also does not like trying new foods, so it had always been a struggle to give him healthy meals.

“The support we had from the dietician helped us keep a food routine and control his calories. His brothers and sisters helped too – they didn’t eat in front of him, which stopped arguments about snacks – and I was able to advise his school to stick to a strict eating plan so that he wasn’t getting more food than necessary.

“The difference has been incredible. As well as the weight loss, his liver has improved and his blood sugar levels are also better so he doesn’t have to take medication for this any more.”

The 15 new services are based on an existing service in Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, which has been supporting children in the area since 2018.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS in England said: “The pandemic has shone a harsh light on obesity – with many vulnerable young people struggling with weight gain during the pandemic.

“Left unchecked, obesity can have other very serious consequences, ranging from diabetes to cancer. This early intervention scheme aims to prevent children and young people enduring a lifetime of ill-health.

“The NHS Long Term Plan committed to take more action to help children and young people with their physical and mental health and these new services are a landmark moment in efforts to help them lead longer, healthier and happier lives.”

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