TWO North-East communities have been branded as among the UK's fattest cities.

Sunderland and Durham City feature in the first three places in a new league table compiled by Muscle and Fitness magazine from mostly official Government statistics.

The Wearside city is second only to Glasgow - home of the legendary TV slob Rab C. Nesbitt - in a list of the UK's fattest cities.

Residents in Durham City, which has high property prices and is home to many office workers, may wonder about the third-worst rating.

Eyebrows may be raised that Middlesbrough, which has some of the worst figures in the country for levels of sickness and life expectancy, appears nine places below Durham in the list.

Surprisingly, Newcastle, which also has major health problems, is 14th in the table for fatties.

A spokesman for Muscle and Fitness said the survey of health characteristics in 27 cities and towns with a combined population of more than 16.3m revealed that Glasgow is the UK's fattest city, closely followed by Sunderland, while Bristol is the least fat - or fittest.

Scores were based on healthy habits, unhealthy habits and local facilities. Glasgow scored minus five, Sunderland scored minus 4.1 and Durham scored minus three. The fittest city, Bristol, scored plus five.

Dr David Tregoning, public health consultant with Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust, said it was no surprise that Wearside had a poor health profile but this reflected the city's tough industrial background.

Across the region, concerted efforts were being made to improve public health, he said.

"We have concentrated on reducing smoking and improving the treatment of coronary heart disease. We have made an awful lot of progress and the next stage is to look more closely at diet and exercise," he added.

David Marrs, director of community services for Durham City Council, said: "It is difficult to give this survey any credibility when you live in Durham City and see how busy our five fantastic leisure centres are with local people of all ages who are keen to have a fit and healthy lifestyle.

"We would like to invite whoever is behind this survey to see Durham City for themselves because we reckon we are among the fittest, not the fattest, in the country."