WHILE Blackburn with Darwen heads the national league table of shame for underweight children it also manages to be close to the top for obese youngsters in the North West as well.

Some 19.5 per cent of the borough’s year six children were classed as seriously overweight, close to regional average of 19.6 per cent and above the English figure of 18.9 per cent. Burnley comes in at 19.6 per cent, Pendle 19.5, Hyndburn 19.3, Rossendale 18.1 and Ribble Valley 11.4.

Dr Tom Smith, the Lancashire Telegraph’s medical expert, and former Blackburn with Darwen children’s services boss Maureen Bateson said the number of overweight children in the region showed the flip side of the coin.

The same poor junk food diets could cause youngsters to be too fat and too thin.

Coun Bateson said: “A diet of junk food can make children thin if it’s all they get and not enough of it. Chips, potatoes, bread and fatty food does not have the necessary nutrients for healthy children eating small portions.

“Equally if all they get its lots of junk food they put on too much weight.

“It’s about giving children the right amount of healthy food and that can be very difficult on a tight budget. We need to do more to help and educate parents about feed children on not very much money.”

Dr Smith said carrying excess weight often made children lethargic and lacking energy. He added: “Children usually become overweight because they are physically inactive rather than eating too much. It may be in areas where there is a high percentage of children who are overweight that there is a large number of kids watching TV rather than getting out and doing sport.

“Children who are obese are often very sleepy at school. They do not have energy to concentrate, so they do poorly at school.

“They are also bullied because they are obese, so they get depressed and feel inadequate.

“Unfortunately there is high rate of suicide amongst those kids.”

He said poverty was often one of the main reasons children become overweight. “People from ordinary working classes are living in terraced housing and there is not much of a chance for them to get out and about. I used to ride to school on my bicycle, but children don’t now.

“We used to play football in the street and there used to be parks, but a lot have closed and parents think there are sexual predators out there.”

He said the health implications were ‘very serious’ and included an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, strokes and heart attacks when overweight children reach their 30s and 40s, and sleep apnoea, which causes interrupted breathing during sleep.

East Lancashire NHS Trust consultant paediatrician Javed Iqbal said: “Poor diet can cause both underweight and overweight children. Obese children tend to stay in, play on their X-box and watch TV.

“It causes problems with attention at school and leads them to be bullied and getting depressed. We try and encourage them to get out and exercise .

“We need really good teams to deal with overweight children involving doctors, dietician, exercise experts and mental health practitioners. As a country we do not have enough such teams.”