SCHOOLCHILDREN are leading the way in breaking a chain of ill health that has seen residents of a Teesside town die before their time.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said improving diet among young people would help push life expectancy in the town up to national levels.

Pupils from Hartlepool schools were rewarded this week for their efforts to learn more about good health.

Mr Wright told the Hartlepool Healthy Schools Award celebration event: "Our economic heritage of docks and steel left us with a legacy of ill health.

"But now it is down to lifestyle and I find it disgraceful that if you live in Hartlepool you are still likely to die early.

"Fortunately, our school-children are leading the way and will be the generation that breaks this chain.

"They will have better diets, they won't smoke or drink as much and they will have life expectancies to match the rest of the country."

The fourth annual celebration of achievement event within the National Healthy Schools Programme, staged by Hartlepool Local Education Authority in partnership with Hartlepool Primary Care Trust, was held at the Historic Quay.

Children were invited to collect a host of awards as part of the Government's National Healthy Schools Programme.

Each year, pupils and staff have been working to meet challenges on issues ranging from physical activity, healthy eating and sex and relationship education to safety, citizenship, drugs education and emotional health and well-being.

Thirty-two of the town's 40 schools are involved in the programme, 18 have achieved all eight modules.

Assistant director of education John Collings said: "This is a high percentage and Hartlepool is being held up as a national example of good practice."