First project to help weight loss launched in Torfaen

A £1.5m project to help people lose weight has begun in Torfaen in response to it being named an obesity hot spot.

It is the first place in Wales offering a full obesity programme where patients have six months of exercise, diet and psychological support.

Children as young as two are involved, with advice for parents on encouraging healthy eating.

Almost three out of five people in Wales are considered overweight, around one in five is obese.

Doctors are warning that obesity is a growing problem in Wales which will have a major impact on the NHS in years to come.

But some parts of the country have distinct problems.

A 2008 study named Torfaen as the second worst area in Britain for obesity, which led to the British Heart Foundation funding the Hearty Lives programme.

Chronic health problems

Patients with a body mass index of over 40, or those with chronic health problems and a BMI above 35, are referred to the scheme by their GPs.

"I've always been a big boy all my life," explains Chris Jones from Cwmbran, who currently weighs 25 stone (159 kg)

"There's heart problems in the family - and me being asthmatic as well it doesn't help," he says.

Chris has enrolled on the programme in order to try and improve his health, having tried using prescription medication in the past to lose weight.

"I don't want to go through what my grandfather has been through now - bearing in mind he's just had a triple heart bypass."

Image caption Dr David Millar-Jones says the impact of obesity is evident in many of his patients

Chris was referred to Torfaen Hearty Lives by his GP, Dr David Millar-Jones, who is well aware of Torfaen's obesity problem.

"We've won a silver medal," he says, "We're the second fattest in Britain, which is probably not something to be proud of."

He says the impact is evident in many of his patients: "With the overweight we've got other co-morbidities associated with it - blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes."

Part of the funding is being used to encourage healthy eating among young children, with a scheme for the parents of two to four year olds.

"I didn't really have a clue about planning a menu, or shopping on a budget," says Cody Gudotti from Blaenavon, who has two young children.

With the help of a community dietitian she's been getting advice on how to encourage her children to eat more fruit and vegetables, and avoid the risk of obesity.

"Before it was mainly biscuits, or just toast with jam - just crisps and junk basically," says Cody.

"Now we've got a lot of fresh foods I'm making things from scratch - and it's helping a lot."

The British Medical Association's Welsh Secretary, Dr Richard Lewis, said obesity was "an extremely serious issue that can lead to a number of life-threatening and life-limiting health problems".

"Obesity is already putting strain on our financially stretched health service and threatens to increase exponentially as it reaches epidemic proportions," he said.

"While doctors have a role to play in supporting overweight patients and educating the wider public about the dangers of obesity, there is a limit as to what they can do."

He added that prevention was much better than cure where weight gain was concerned.

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