OBESITY often begins at home which is why experts in Swindon have set out to educate parents in order to set their children on a healthier path.

In this spirit a health programme of a different kind – Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do It! (MEND) – which is aimed at entire families to tackle childhood obesity and ensure durable changes, was launched.

The free ten-week course initially targeted seven to 13-year-old overweight or obese children and teenagers.

But since its creation in 2008 it has gradually been extended to any youngster aged five to 16.

Each session follows a simple format. The first hour teaches young people and their parents how to read food labels, cut down on sugar and saturated fats, or how to choose more wisely while shopping at the supermarket.

This is followed by an hour of fun exercise for children only.

“Quite often we will find that the parents or at least one of them is obese or overweight and it is true of the siblings,” said Emma Sperring, healthy weight project officer at Swindon Council.

“You can’t tell a five-year-old how to shop or cook so it’s important for parents to be there. It is very much a family programme.

“It’s about making a change for life. Quite often parents are surprised about how much sugar and saturated fat are in their food.

“In many cases you find that children are eating well but adult-size portions. No matter where the calories come from, even vegetables, it can be too much.

“Children grow in confidence and that’s very good to see.”

Eleven-year-old Edan Shannon joined MEND last September after a serious foot injury left him unable to take part in any form of physical activity for two years.

His dad Mark said the course had not only allowed his son to get fit again as he slowly recovered from a difficult operation to reconstruct his foot, but showed them both the benefits of a healthy and balanced diet.

“After his injury he could not exercise and he started putting on weight,” said the 40-year-old from Old Town. “It really knocks it out of a child.

“He used to be very active but he didn’t have exercise any more to make up for what he ate.

“Even things you think are healthy are not. The programme was an eye-opener. He lost half a stone during the course and his BMI dropped right down. And he has kept it down.

“The programme has encouraged him to eat more healthily and he is even saying no when he is offered a packet of crisps.”

To register a child on to the programme contact Emma Sperring on 01793 465412, or 07818 51 0563, email ESperring@swindon.gov.uk or visit www.leisureinswindon.co.uk