A CHANGE in culture surrounding food is needed to tackle childhood obesity in a town where children have found a way around being banned from buying high energy drinks.

Darlington Borough Council’s children and young people’s scrutiny committee heard the latest data showed childhood obesity rates in the town had risen, with nearly 37 per cent of youngsters overweight before leaving primary school.

Members were told studies of 6,000 pupils in the town had revealed 67 per cent of primary students and 82 per cent of those at secondary schools had drunk high calorie energy drinks, but 80 per cent of children agreed they were bad for their health.

Public health officer Rachel Osbaldeston said instead of focussing on advice and information, the authority was now providing recipes to parents, transforming the environment to make walking easier and making “the healthy choice the easy choice”.

The findings come as the Government considers banning the sale of energy drinks to under-18s.

Sales of energy drinks to under-16s have already been banned in most major supermarkets, amid concerns about high levels of sugar and caffeine, but the meeting heard children in Darlington had already found a way of getting “stronger hits” by buying cold coffee-type drinks.

Councillor Linda Hughes told the meeting she had been shocked to see children circumnavigate the shop ban by buying double espresso macchiatos, which were cheaper than high energy drinks.

The authority’s children and young people’s boss, Councillor Cyndi Hughes said while there were activities for children to encourage healthy eating and exercise in the town, “changing the culture of eating” was vital.

She said: “It’s been said they don’t have much time to eat. It’s just a question of shovelling it in. That’s not really healthy. We need to get back to the place where eating is a social event and promote that so we can all feel better about what we’re eating.”

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Chris Taylor said further work was needed to encourage cooking wholesome food at home and exercise. He added: “Perhaps less emphasis on standards in the curriculum and more on lifestyles might be something schools would look at.”