Children, young people and their families will get help to manage their weight when a unique new service launches in Swansea Bay later this year.
It will be run by the health board, with Welsh Government funding as part of its 10-year Healthy Weight, Healthy Wales delivery plan.
Statistics show that around a quarter of children aged four and five living in the Swansea Bay area are either overweight or obese – with just over three percent classified as severely obese.
This has worrying consequences not only during their childhood but can affect their health and well-being later in life.
The health board is in the process of recruiting a service lead and will be appointing a new team ready for the Children and Young People’s Weight Management Service to launch towards the end of the year.
Swansea Bay’s Head of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sioned Quirke, said: “We know from research that children who have overweight or obesity are more likely to stay obese into adulthood.
“There are common misconceptions, like saying it’s puppy fat, or they’ll grow into their weight, and that’s not the case. Sometimes it’s just dismissed but it’s quite a concern.
“The World Health Organization has recognised that early intervention with weight makes a huge difference to a child’s health, but also their health and well-being into adulthood.
“Children with overweight or obesity are much more likely to develop non-communicable diseases like type two diabetes or cardiovascular disease, at a much younger age than we would expect.
“We can see children with compromised liver function, which again is usually in the older adult age group.”
The health board’s Clinical Lead Dietitian for Children and Young People, Claire Wood explained it could have other physical effects such as early puberty, which can lead to reduced height growth in girls.
“Sleep apnoea and asthma are conditions that we see quite often in children with overweight or obesity,”Claire said.
“It can also lead to issues with self-esteem, confidence, body image, bullying, anxiety, depression, and education performance.
“They may have physical complications like knee and back pain, and an inability to join in with what their peers are doing in school.
“They may also be nutritionally compromised if they have complex feeding issues and limited food choices.
“Children with overweight or obesity aren’t automatically well-nourished and may not be meeting their nutritional requirements.”
At the moment, only one health board in Wales, Aneurin Bevan UHB, has a children and young person’s weight management service.
This is a level three service, which means it deals with more complex and high-risk cases requiring specialised intervention.
Uniquely, Swansea Bay will also be able to offer a level two, community-based service.
Non-medical causes of overweight and obesity are many and varied. They include food choices and eating patterns, health inequalities, societal influences and lack of access to play areas and open spaces for physical activity. Sometimes one or both parents have overweight or obesity.
For this reason, a wide-ranging, whole family approach will be taken.
The team will include a paediatrician, clinical psychologist, nursing and dietetics professionals, physiotherapists and assistant practitioners.
Families will be triaged on referral, to determine whether the weight management service or another service is best placed to support them.
Sioned said: “If it is us, we will provide them with a tailored, individualised package of care. That will involve the whole family to help with the goals they want to achieve.
“These could be eating more healthily, increasing their activity levels, feeling more confident or improving their self-esteem and looking at their mental well-being.
“We’ll also obviously support parents, so looking at positive parenting, assistance with thinking about portion control, meals and cooking, and how to engage the whole family in this lifestyle intervention rather than just focusing on the child.
“There will be a blended approach. Face-to-face, groups, peer support, virtual delivery, but supported by written resources, video tutorials – a really wide range of resources that will suit the majority of families coming in.”
Referrals will be accepted from healthcare professionals such as school nurses, health visitors, midwives, GPs, and practice nurses.
Families will also be able to self-refer. Details of how they can do this will be publicised before the service starts.
“We will be adopting the simplest approach that we can for families to be able to access help,” Sioned added.