• Software now shows children what will happen if they continue to pile on pounds
  • Experts are increasingly worried that obesity has become ‘normalised’ in Britain
  • It comes as nearly half a million of those under 11 in the UK are currently obese  

Ben Spencer, Medical Correspondent In Porto For The Daily Mail

Parents could be shown pictures of their overweight children as fat adults to shock them into tackling obesity.

Newcastle University experts developed software that shows what will happen if youngsters continue to pile on the pounds.

The programme, which is backed by the Department of Health and could be rolled out across the NHS, has already been shown to reduce a child’s weight gain. 

Experts are increasingly worried that obesity has become ‘normalised’ in Britain – with 20 per cent of children starting primary school overweight, and 33 per cent overweight by the time they start secondary school at 11.

The programme, which is backed by the Department of Health and could be rolled out across the NHS, has already been shown to reduce a child's weight gain

The programme, which is backed by the Department of Health and could be rolled out across the NHS, has already been shown to reduce a child's weight gain

The programme, which is backed by the Department of Health and could be rolled out across the NHS, has already been shown to reduce a child’s weight gain

Nearly half a million under-11s in the UK are obese, a problem which experts fear will create a boom in heart disease, diabetes and cancer in the years to come.

Many parents simply do not accept that their child has a problem – and those that do simply think they will ‘grow out of it’. The Newcastle team found only 30 per cent of parents with an overweight child correctly identified them as having a weight problem.

The computer programme attempts to tackle the issue by confronting parents with the facts – using a child’s measurements to create a 3D image of them overweight later in life.

The results, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal, showed overweight children whose parents were shown the images put on 9lb (4kg) less weight on average in the following year.

Lead researcher Dr Angela Jones said: ‘Parents play a key role because of how they shape children’s health behaviour.

‘But we know that parents tend not to recognise when their children are overweight or obese. They tend to use visual assessments – they look at the children and compare them to others in the school.

‘So unless a child is really large they’re deemed to be fine.’ The study involved 2,200 families with children aged four and five and ten and 11. Of the 334 youngsters who were overweight at the start, 41 per cent of them were deemed to have ‘improved their weight status’ a year later.

Experts last night said that in time it could help millions. Paul Aveyard, professor of behavioural medicine at Oxford University, said: ‘It gets round the problem that people don’t think their child is overweight and they will grow out of it, when we know that’s not really true.

Experts developed software that shows what will happen if youngsters continue to pile on the pounds

Experts developed software that shows what will happen if youngsters continue to pile on the pounds

Experts developed software that shows what will happen if youngsters continue to pile on the pounds

‘It’s quite a striking result and it’s cost free.’ Professor Susan Jebb, the government’s former obesity tsar, added: ‘If you can show what your child looks like as an adult you can think, ‘this is the kind of person who looks like they’re going to have a heart attack’.’

Professor Jason Halford of the University of Liverpool, a spokesman for the European Association for the Study of Obesity, added: ‘This is a really important tool because most parents think obesity is a really big problem – for others.’

However, Chris Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said it was ‘intrusive nannying’.

Schools have sometimes wrongly warned parents of slim children warning that they are overweight. Measurements are based on body mass index, which has been described as an unreliable tool because it does not distinguish muscle from fat.

It means well-built athletes such as rugby players are classified as obese. The method is also flawed for children.

 

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