Alive and Kicking


As the rates of childhood obesity continue to escalate, nutritionist David Tchilingirian explains the importance of parent and teacher collaboration in tackling the issue and looks at an NHS-funded programme that is aiming to help.

The Weight Management Centre (WMC) has been running for 10 years and specialises in developing obesity and weight management education and intervention programmes.

I currently head up a programme called Alive ‘N’ Kicking for the Merton and Sutton area of London, which launched around three years ago. I am responsible for developing content and overseeing the scheme. 

Funded locally by the NHS, the main goal of Alive ‘N’ Kicking is to support children and their families to manage their weight by adopting changes to their lifestyle and setting achievable goals. 

The number of overweight and obese children across the UK is rising, accompanied by many associated health and psychological problems. 

For example, a child who carries an unhealthy amount of extra weight may encounter self-esteem issues, feel self-conscious and avoid participating in physical activity at school. These insecurities can have major implications and remain with a child into their adult life. 

How it works

The programme runs throughout the school year. There are typically four groups depending on numbers but normally it is divided into age groups (four to six, seven to 11, 12 to 15, and 16-plus). In addition we also have an SEN programme. 

The scheme runs over a period of 12 weeks and the children attend a session once a week during this time. The sessions start with the young person’s weight and height being measured to get a BMI (body-mass index), which is then plotted on a growth chart and enables us to track any change specific to each child.

Healthy education

Every week, the weigh-in is followed by an educational session, exploring a topic relating to nutrition or general lifestyle and wellbeing. The young people and their parents are encouraged to interact and consider how the topics link directly to them. For each session the topics are broadly the same, however they are tailored to match the needs and abilities of children.

The programme for the younger age range focuses on activity with a short nutrition message with the parents receiving the main information – whereas the seniors get a mix of activity along with family learning to ensure that they are able to absorb the important health messages in an interesting format.

After the education session the children, along with their parents, participate in fun physical activity sessions, such as kick-boxing, and we invite a local instructor to attend. Both the young people and their parents enjoy the interactivity of these sessions and often discover a passion for activities they would otherwise not have tried. Furthermore, the chance to work as a parent-child unit is an excellent way to develop family relationships.

The importance of collaboration

Research conducted by health programme MEND recently revealed that more than a third of parents are cautious about talking to their children about their weight as they fear it will affect their self-esteem and trigger eating disorders. 

This is why the Alive ‘N’ Kicking programme approach is ideal, as we encourage parent-teacher collaboration which is then supported positively by the course. 

We appreciate that in order to support the drive to reduce childhood obesity, it needs to be approached in a way which promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, while helping to highlight external factors and identify the support needed to address these.

Lifestyle behaviours are set from a young age and this is why we strive to change attitudes and approaches to food and exercise early on in a person’s life. If a child is overweight while very young they are at greater risk of being an overweight adult – children don’t just grow out of it! 

We like parents to attend the session with their child every week. Parents have a huge influence on their child, and not only do they tend to purchase the majority of the food consumed, they also become the role model. 

So, if a child sees that their parent has a healthy approach to what they consume and understand issues such as portion size and sugar and fat levels in certain foods, then they will be better equipped to adopt a good approach.   

Our view is that the greater level of support offered to course participants, the greater the chance of success. As a result, WMC representatives, teachers and all school staff, such as parent support advisors can refer to the service. Schools can help us by promoting our work, inviting us to support their “healthy schools” work and by raising the issue of weight at school.

With weight problems affecting up to 30 per cent of students in schools, this issue should not be ignored. Through discussing and embracing it openly, this helps to reduce the stigma often attached to obesity.

Programme measurement

We measure the programme’s success in several ways – through self-esteem measurements, weight and waist circumference changes, and BMI changes.

The results show improved self-esteem, physical activity levels are shown to increase, while sedentary behaviour such as television-watching and computer playing decreases. Changes to diet include increased breakfast consumption, a higher proportion of fruit and vegetables eaten, and a reduction in sugary and fatty snacks and fizzy drinks.

A healthy future

We constantly seek innovative ways to refine the programme and ensure it delivers exactly what teachers, parents and, most importantly, the children need it to. We welcome and take on board feedback and aim to apply this to ensure any improvements are made.

Looking ahead we will be incorporating new sessions across the programme, including more fun activities such as zumba and spinning. After all, leading a healthy lifestyle should be fun and positive, rather than seen as a chore. If we can instil this in the minds of parents and children early on, we can help to improve the quality of life led by many.

  • Nutritionist David Tchilingirian is from the Weight Management Centre.

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