Too Fat To Toddle

Tuesday 6 May 2008 9:00pm – 10:00pm

Obesity is big news. Health Secretary Alan Johnson has described the problem as “the most significant public and personal health challenge facing our society.” And the government is instigating several action plans to tackle the problem.

One in four pre-school children is obese and, with eight out of ten obese children growing into obese adults, things need to change.

Too Fat To Toddle focuses on four families with overweight children, to see if this problem can be nipped in the bud before it’s too late.

With the help of Professor Paul Gately and his team of experts from Leeds Metropolitan University, Too Fat To Toddle embarks on a brand new initiative – the first ever fat camp for under fives.

At this camp there will be no faddy diets or gimmicky methods of losing weight on offer – just common sense advice about eating less and moving more.

Prof Gately’s studies have shown that obesity is almost always a result of diet and lifestyle and he hopes to teach these families that by working together and making simple changes, they can turn their children’s lives around.

He tells the film that during the three-day course he will be showing the families how to cut down their children’s calorie intake, how to cook healthy and interesting meals, and how to make exercise fun.

Prof Gately and his team have been running successful weight loss camps for teenagers for eight years. He tells the programme: “Britain is facing an epidemic, which isn’t too strong a statement given that 4.5 million children in the UK are overweight or obese, but still there is no mainstream service for weight loss in children.”

Before they join for the weekend, Prof Gately visits the families at home to see where they are going wrong with their children’s diets and eating habits.

What he discovers is that most parents of obese children are unaware of the little mistakes they are making that are leading to their children’s weight gain.

The first child he meets is five-year-old Teighan who already weighs six stone, which is twice the weight she should be, and is being bullied at school because of it. Her mum Sonya says she doesn’t understand why Teighan is so big, as she only feeds her the same as her brother and sister.

In touching scenes, Sonya watches as Teighan struggles to ride her scooter or play hopscotch.

Sonya tells the programme: “I feel quite sad when she needs a kiss or a cuddle because I can’t lift her up like I would like to. According to the doctor its metabolism, but I’m not happy with that.”

Prof Gately goes shopping with the family and discovers that Sonya doesn’t realise she is feeding her daughter the wrong foods and giving her the wrong portion sizes.

The next child is five-year-old Grace who weighs four stone 13 pounds, and her mum, Dawn, thinks it’s because it’s in her genes.

She tells the programme: “She can’t do anything about it, she’s one of those people that’s going to be exactly like me – I look at a cream cake and I put a couple of pounds on before I have decided to eat it.”

Prof Gately’s thinks Grace’s diet is to blame. But in order to change it, Prof Gately tells the programme that the family need to work more as a team, and Dawn and her husband, Tony, need to be more supportive of each other.

When Prof Gately visits the family he notices that Tony doesn’t eat with his wife and children. At the fat camp, Prof Gately aims to show Tony how this could affect Grace’s eating habits.

The third child is five-year-old Edden who weighs three stone nine pounds. Her mum thinks she could be heading towards obesity, but her dad disagrees. Will Prof Gately be able to iron out their differences in time to address their daughter’s health?

And the fourth child is four-year-old Lewis who weighs four stone four pounds. His parents are worried he is going to become like his seven-year-old brother, Shane, who weighs nine stone five pounds. Prof Gately thinks the problem could be the children’s unruly behaviour and their mum’s lack of control.

The film follows the families as they arrive at the camp and start their activities. But, as well as the children being involved in learning how to cook, tasting experiments and treasure hunts, Paul has a serious message he needs to deliver to their parents.

Paul talks to the parents individually and tells them exactly where their children are on the obesity scale, the health implications of their weight and where he thinks they are going wrong. The news is shocking and provokes an emotional response in some of the mums and dads but they are all desperate to find a way to help their children.

Lewis’s dad, Tim, tells the film: “It’s a severe shock to hear that, basically, we are killing our kids.”

Hayley breaks down and tells Prof Gately she just wants her children to be like everyone else’s, and be able to run and play like others.

Sonya admits that she has been giving into Teighan for an easy life, and that she doesn’t want to have to tell her that she’s fat.

And one of the biggest shocks comes for Grace’s dad, Tony, who tells the programme: “Things should change. I know I don’t do enough family activities and that’s what this has taught me, I’ve got to take a bigger role in Grace’s life, the way she eats, the things she does. I’ve just got to be around a lot more. I’m just more upset it’s taken an outsider to realise the affect we’re having on our children and the way we’re bringing them up.”

Prof Gately also teaches the families about the basic rules that he believes need to be followed to control their children’s diets. He believes they need to limit calories, eat as a family at the table and get their children playing out more to get exercise.

The families are also visited by a nutritionist who helps them to work out portion sizes and explains to them the importance of their children getting lots of fruit and vegetables.

The parents leave after the weekend feeling confident that they know what to do to improve their children’s health – but how will they get on trying to put the theory into practice at home? Prof Gately visits them after six weeks to see if his course has been a success.

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