Is it time to go Danish in the battle against childhood obesity?

A pioneering Danish health scheme that enforces a series of strict lifestyle changes is being touted as a potential solution to the global childhood obesity epidemic.

The programme, which is being rolled out across Denmark, sees overweight children designated with a personalised treatment plan targeting 15-20 daily habits in a bid to transform their lifestyle. Exercise in the form of walking or cycling to school, in addition to regular organised physical activity, forms a central tenet of the scheme, as does healthy and strictly portioned meals, limited screen time (television, computer or tablet) and a regulated early bedtime. To ensure the lifestyle changes stick, the child’s family is also required to follow the regime.

Initial results have proved impressive. The Danish town of Holbaek was an early adopter and has so far treated 1,900 patients under the scheme, with 70 per cent successfully maintaining a normal weight four years after embracing the lifestyle changes. On average, each child required just over five hours of medical consultation per year.

There are now plans to expand the scheme across Denmark and the man behind the scheme – Dr Jens Christian Holm – has called on other nations to learn from its successes.

“In general, obese children are neglected. They are often lonely and many of them don’t participate in activities with their peers,” he told the BBC. “They lack self-confidence. With this scheme there is a real hope they can lose weight and have a good quality of life.”

Childhood obesity and inactivity has become a major concern across the western world and particularly the UK, where nearly a third of two to 15-year-olds are overweight or obese according to the latest figures. The growing health crisis has prompted a group of leading GPs and health experts to call on the government to create an emergency taskforce to quell the rising epidemic of childhood obesity. In a recent open letter to the Chief Medical Officer, they warned that, without intervention, an entire generation will be ‘destroyed’ by a diet of junk food and sugary drinks.