A MAMMOTH 700 tonnes of body mass - the equivalent of two jumbo jets - needs to be lost in a North-East town to bring people's weight under control.

And now the struggle against an ever-expanding waistline has been put to the top of the agenda for health chiefs in Middlesbrough.

Middlesbrough Primary Care Trust (PCT) carried out a survey in schools and uncovered some worrying figures in the battle against the bulge.

The vital statistics for youngsters in the town were found to be substantially higher than the national average.

More than one in three 11- to 12-year-olds is either overweight or obese and the 14-to 15-year-olds fared only slightly better with 28 per cent tipping the scales over the expected limit.

Middlesbrough Council and the PCT have already initiated a range of schemes, such as the Kidz Power project, to get youngsters into the habit of taking regular exercise and adopting a healthy diet.

And yesterday, the council announced it was increasing its budget to £100,000 a year by 2008/09 to step up the healthy living campaign.

Councillor Brenda Thompson, the council's executive member for health and social care, said: "This investment is vital if we are to bridge the gap between Middlesbrough and the rest of the country.

"It is no exaggeration to say that Middlesbrough's health experience has been one of the town's tragedies."

For the past two years, the town's PCT has provided funding to children under 16 to enjoy free swimming sessions throughout the summer holidays.

But it is not only dietary problems that are affecting people on Teesside.

According to figures from the North-East Public Health Observatory, about 33 per cent of all premature deaths are attributable to smoking.

Coun Thompson said: "Death from lung cancer is 50 per cent higher than the national average and the statistics for respiratory diseases and strokes is nearly as bad."