TAXING milkshakes and chocolate while banning the marketing of junk food after 9pm could help tackle the obesity crisis, according to a North-East MP.

Dr Paul Williams spoke out after new figures revealed that obesity was directly responsible for more hospital admissions in the region than anywhere else in the country.

Fat was a factor in at least 24,410 admissions to the area’s hospitals last year, with obesity being the primary diagnosis in six percent of cases.

Analysis of NHS data found 1,480 hospital stays were as a direct result of being overweight – the equivalent of 58 in every 100,000 admissions, almost three times the national rate of 20.

In Sunderland, which has the highest rate in England, it is more than five times that.

While such admissions have dropped in the region since 2013, health authorities are dealing with a growing number of cases where it is considered to be a secondary diagnosis.

Across the country, about 29 per cent of adults are now classified as obese, along with a fifth of year six children.

Labour’s Dr Williams – MP for Stockton South – said addressing childhood obesity was key to tacking a growing crisis and urged schools, councils and businesses to play their part in doing so.

He said the so-called ‘sugar tax’ had encouraged manufacturers of soft drinks to alter their products and suggested an expansion of the scheme to include items such as milkshakes and chocolate could be beneficial, along with a ban on marketing unhealthy food after 9pm.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Dr Paul Williams, MP for Stockton South

Highlighting links between high levels of obesity and areas of deprivation, Dr Williams also called on council planners to curb growing numbers of takeaway businesses and said local authorities and schools could help by restricting sugary foods and promoting active lifestyles.

He added: “This is not about shame, stigma or pointing the finger at the fat kid – it is about making sure that we have as healthy a society as possible.

“Obesity levels are increasing and if you are large as a child, you are usually larger as an adult.

“There’s no magic bullet and no single thing that will make a difference but the time for doing something about this is in childhood.”

Sunderland’s Director of Public Health, Gillian Gibson echoed Dr Williams' sentiments and provided context to the figures for the area, saying: “Obesity is a regional and national issue that the City Council and its public health partners are working together to address.

“It is one of our most significant and complex challenges, undermining individual and family health and wellbeing, impacting on business and education, and contributing to significant costs for health and social care services.

“Over the last 30 to 40 years we have changed how we shop and where we eat. Food is now more readily available, more heavily marketed, promoted and advertised, and eating habits have changed with increased consumption of convenience and fast-food.

“Another factor is that people are also less active in their work and leisure time.

“Across Sunderland there are established programmes in place offering both help and support on healthy eating, physical activity and nutrition. We are continuing to work with all our community health partners to promote healthy lifestyle messages.”