Concerns raised about levels of childhood obesity in Hertfordshire

Councillors say parents are ‘a big part of the solution’
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The proportion of Hertfordshire schoolchildren who are overweight or obese is ‘a cause of major concern’, according to director of public health Sarah Perman.

According to data presented to county councillors on Tuesday (February 6), 20 per cent of children in the county, aged between four and five, are classified as overweight or obese – that’s equivalent to one in every five.

And among older children, aged 10-11 years old, 30 per cent – equivalent to almost one in three – are classified as overweight or obese.

The proportion of Hertfordshire schoolchildren who are overweight or obese is 'a cause of major concern' say officials. Photo by Christopher WilliamsThe proportion of Hertfordshire schoolchildren who are overweight or obese is 'a cause of major concern' say officials. Photo by Christopher Williams
The proportion of Hertfordshire schoolchildren who are overweight or obese is 'a cause of major concern' say officials. Photo by Christopher Williams

The data was included in a report on public heath nursing presented to a meeting of the county council’s public health and community safety cabinet panel.

It was highlighted by Liberal Democrat Cllr Ron Tindall, who said he was ‘rather concerned about that’.

And public health chief Ms Perman agreed it was ‘a cause of major concern’.

“The rates that we see in Hertfordshire of childhood obesity are similar nationally,” she said.

“But they are far too high and going consistently in the wrong direction.”

And Ms Perman said they did already commission specific weight management advice services for children – working closely with family centre to identify at an early stage and sign-posting them to those services.

During the meeting, Cllr Tindall had also asked whether a lack of physical activity in primary schools was a factor.

But executive member for public health and community safety Cllr Morris Bright warned against blaming schools.

“I think we have to be very careful of abrogating responsibility from parents by blaming it on other institutions such as schools,” he said.

But he highlighted the role of the county council – suggesting that it had to be an approach from all sides and that, ‘we have got to do it all together, wherever we can’.

And he later added: “[…] I think it’s about advising and helping, and not looking like we are lecturing and a nanny state, but we are there to help rather than to instruct. But it is a difficult one.”

Meanwhile consultant in public health Aideen Dunne stressed that it was a ‘really complex issue’ and that there was ‘no silver bullet’ for tackling obesity.

She highlighted the contributions made by family centres, public health nursing and schools around physical activity but health eating.

“Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet – and it’s the combination of all of these activities that will help address this issue,” she said.

“And parents are part of that – but they are part of a big solution.”

Ms Dunne had provided the cabinet panel with an update on the council’s public health nursing contract – which is currently delivered by the Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust. (HCT)

The contract – which includes school nurses and health visitors – had been due to end in September 2024.

But councillors were told it had been extended until September 2026 – during which a transformation programme will be undertaken to inform a revised service specification.