Families are being urged to make a pledge to change their lives and become healthier in a new campaign launched today.
In the run-up to the new academic year, the Welsh Government is launching its Smart Restart campaign to promote healthier lifestyles in a bid to tackle some of Wales’ major public health issues.
The campaign, which is part of the Change4Life programme, is aimed at parents with children between the ages of four and 11 who are set to return to school next week.
Families are being invited to choose from five pledges to change their lives for the better, including swapping car journeys for walking or cycling, eating healthy alternatives for lunch and snacks and fulfilling the hour-a-day exercise guideline for children.
They are also being asked to sign up online to track their progress throughout a six-week period, which begins on September 2.
Dr Chris Jones, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: “This is a positive effort to improve the health of our nation. Even the smallest of changes in people’s lifestyles can help towards a better and healthier future.
“Making changes is much easier if you are joined by others who can also see that it’s a smart move to make, and when those changes are supported by a campaign like this full of advice, tips and encouragement then it’s easier to make those changes more permanent.
“I’m hoping that many families across Wales will sign up to the pledges and enjoy a healthier life in general. It is a chance to press the re-set button on behaviours and create positive healthy routines for both parents and children.”
Tanwen Hill, from Llanrumey Cardiff, is pledging to reduce the amount of time her three children, Hannah, 12, Connor, 11, and Megan, eight, spend in front of the television or games consoles.
The 31-year-old senior sales assistant said: “My son Connor is the most inactive member of the family. He has an X-Box and TV in his room which he will watch for up to five hours after school and 12 hours on each day of the weekend. The children do karate once a week during term time but they get tired very quickly.
“My husband and I also like to watch television on the sofa, so members of the family end up being in different parts of the house. Family togetherness is really important so we really should invest our time doing things as a unit, like going for walk or a bike ride which doesn’t cost anything.
“Twenty years ago you didn’t have the media we have now and we’re turning into a generation of sofa huggers. I’d like to do something about it before it gets out of control and Smart Restart will set us on the right path.”
Findings from the recent Welsh Health Survey painted a stark picture of the health of the nation, showing the number of overweight or obese adults in Wales increasing for the first time for five years.
The survey revealed that nearly three in five (59%) were classified as overweight or obese, with 23% of those obese – an increase from 2011 where 57% were overweight or obese, with 22% being obese.
Just 29% reported being physically active on five or more days in the past week, and 33% reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables the previous day.
Meanwhile, 34% of children under the age of 16 were classified as overweight or obese – a slight fall from 35% in 2011 – but the number classed as obese remained at 19%.
A recent report by Public Health Wales also revealed the extent of Wales’ obesity crisis as it found a 28% of children aged just four and five had an unhealthy body mass index (BMI), with 12.5% falling into the “obese” category.
This is higher than England, where 23% of children are classed as overweight or obese.
The Smart Restart campaign also comes in line with new legislation which will see schools in Wales forced to curb fatty foods and sugary snacks from the start of the academic year.
Regulations stipulating the maximum levels of fat, salt and sugar allowed in dinners at maintained schools in Wales will come into effect from next month.
It means those schools that have not improved the quality of food and drink on offer as advised by the Welsh Government will now be compelled to by law.
The regulations will tell local authorities and school governing bodies to increase the availability of fruit and vegetables and healthy drinks on offer, while limiting unhealthy foods.
Governors will have to chart progress of nutritional standards in annual reports and the arrangements will be reviewed by the education inspectorate Estyn.
But while regulations cover meals provided at school they do not apply to food and snacks brought onto the premises, such as packed lunches.
Last week, Welsh Secretary of the British Medical Association, Dr Richard Lewis, warned that the NHS in Wales is facing a “tsunami” of ill health caused by poor lifestyle choices and soaring levels of chronic disease.”
He said: “It is vital that the public health agenda is pursued in parallel with health service provision.
“We have to address the burden that poor lifestyle choices place because we know how much chronic disease is set to rise in the future.
“High levels of these chronic diseases have a massive impact and place a huge demand on the health service.
“We know there is a link between poor lifestyle choices and areas of deprivation in Wales so we need to address these health inequalities which really will create, over the long term, a tsunami of ill health that the health service will have to deal with.
“We need to do all we can to minimise that impact, which includes pursuing preventative measures.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, said: “Obesity is a vicious circle – generation after generation it gets worse and we have got to stop it somehow or it will burden our NHS because the cost of obesity is huge.
“We have got to do something to stop children getting fat, but even then it is going to take at least 15-20 years for this to work through.”