WA kids join anti-fat brigade
Health lessons: WA children to learn about better health. Picture: Getty Images

In a WA-first, overweight and obese children are going on government-funded intensive courses to teach them to eat better and spend less time glued to televisions and computers.

The privately run Better Health Program, which has helped 10,000 children in other States, started in four Perth suburbs in the past fortnight and will be rolled out to more locations by the end of the year.

Children aged seven to 13 can be referred by a health professional such as a GP or by their parents. They attend sessions after school twice a week for 10 weeks during the school term.

The WA Health Department, which is funding the program with the Federal Government, says the one in four WA children who are overweight or obese risk becoming obese adults and developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Organisers say the course is not a boot camp or about putting children on strict diets, but more about teaching them and their parents about healthy food, eating smaller meals and getting more exercise while limiting time watching screens.

So far, 60 children have been enrolled in Midvale, Belmont, Rockingham and Balga, and more courses are planned in Armadale, Cockburn and Wanneroo.

Better Health Company managing director Madeline Freeman said children were assessed for their eligibility based on factors including their body mass index. It was mandatory for parents or carers to go to the sessions too because they largely controlled their children's diet and exercise levels.

"It's not something where parents drop off their kids, because they need to be involved, and during part of the sessions health professionals spend time talking to parents while their children take part in physical activity," she said.

Results from other States and overseas showed that generally children had a significant drop in their BMI and their self-esteem improved.

WA project manager Hayley Robertson said the concept was new in WA but she expected demand would be strong.

"Families can register themselves, but we've already had a big response from health professionals," she said.

A WA Health Department spokeswoman said the course would also give concerned parents practical ideas to change the family's eating and exercise habits.

The West Australian

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