THE North-East has the joint highest prevalence of obese school children at reception age of any region in England, new NHS figures show.

But Middlesbrough, which previously had the highest proportion of obese four to five year olds of any area in the country has now shed that tag, being replaced by several other worse-performing areas.

The National Child Measurement Programme measures youngsters’ height and weight in their first year at primary school (reception) and also in year six when they are aged ten and 11.

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Figures from NHS Digital show that in the 2016/17 academic year 10.7 per cent of children in the North-East – more than one in ten – were classed as clinically obese by the time they reached reception, compared to the English average of 9.6 per cent.

The same prevalence was found in the West Midlands.

On a local authority basis, Hartlepool had the highest prevalence of obese reception-aged children in the North-East, at 12.5 per cent, compared to Middlesbrough’s 12 per cent.

In North Yorkshire the figure was 8.8 per cent.

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones, Hartlepool Borough Council’s interim director of public health said its figure was unfortunately reflective of the national trend.

He said: “As a council, we continue to provide a range of initiatives to help our residents stay active, including our Family Weight Management Programme and our annual Free Swims summer scheme which this year welcomed a record 10,000 swimmers.

“The council has supported a number of summer holiday wellbeing schemes, providing funding to organisations to provide healthy meals and snacks to help hard-pressed families eat well.

“This data does not affect our longer term vision as we continue to work towards the actions outlined within our Healthy Weight Strategy, which takes a comprehensive approach to tacking obesity across all age groups in the borough.”

In the Year six category, 22.5 per cent of youngsters in the North-East were classed as obese, suggesting that more than twice as many are obese than their reception-aged counterparts. The highest figure was in Gateshead (24.6 per cent). The England wide figure was 20 per cent.

North Yorkshire was again lower than the English-wide figure with 16.2 per cent of year six children said to be obese.

The Local Government Association, which represents local councils, said cuts to public health grants undermined their authority to tackle childhood obesity and the Government should cancel future reductions and return an estimated £531m cut to date.

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Successfully tackling obesity involves both individuals taking responsibility for their own decisions and government supporting them to do so.

“But a year on since the Government launched its childhood obesity plan, there has to be more visible progress on how we tackle this issue.”

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said there was no single solution to reverse a problem decades in the making.

She said:”We’re working with industry to make food healthier, we’ve produced guidance for councils on planning healthier towns and we’ve delivered campaigns encouraging people to choose healthier food and lead healthier lives.”