Almost one in 5 children in Watford is obese by the time they start primary school.

The worrying findings have just been released in a report by Hertfordshire County Council, which highlights the proportion of children and adults who are obese or overweight.

The report shows that in 2016/17, eight per cent of children were already obese by the age of 4-5. And 20 per cent – that’s one in five – were classed as either overweight or obese.

When looking at obesity among children moving on to secondary school, the number has doubled to 16 per cent.

And the number of youngsters classed as overweight or obese is also significantly higher amongst in this 10-11 age group at 29 per cent.

According to the figures, children starting primary school in Hertfordshire were most likely to be obese in Broxbourne, Dacorum, Hertsmere and Watford – and least likely to be obese in the St Albans area.

In Broxbourne, Watford and Stevenage the number of youngsters who were obese by the time they started secondary school was in excess of 20 per cent.

Councillors were presented with the figures at Public Health and Prevention Cabinet Panel on Tuesday (June 26), when looking at ‘Healthy Weight in Hertfordshire’.

Although the childhood obesity rates in the county are below the national average (which are 9.6 per cent for 4-5 year olds; 20 per cent for 10 to 11 year olds),  it says the number of children who are ‘overweight or obese’ is a cause for concern.

Meanwhile the report also presents a picture of adult obesity across Hertfordshire.

It shows that one in five adults across the county (19.7 per cent) are thought to be obese, compared to 23.3 per cent nationally.

And it suggests that obesity levels vary significantly across the county – from 15.5 per cent in St Albans to 25.1 per cent in Stevenage.

When it comes to being overweight, the report says six out of 10 people (59.7 per cent) across the county are either obese or overweight.

It says Hertsmere (65.2 per cent) and Stevenage (65 per cent) have the highest proportion of residents who are overweight or obese. St Albans has the lowest (49.8 per cent).

The report identifies foods laden with fat and sugar, plates that are too full and too much time sitting down as part of the problem, along with people just not understanding what a healthy weight ‘looks like’.

And it highlights the health risks associated with being obese or overweight, including the increased risk of heart disease, stroke, liver disease, diabetes and some cancers, as well as being linked to mental health and depression.

Local initiatives designed to cut obesity levels already include the National Child Measurement programme to identify children who are overweight and the Healthy Schools Programme, as well as projects like the Daily Mile and Girls Active.

Meanwhile, health checks for the over-40s, referrals to Slimming World and Weight Watchers and Watford Football Club’s ‘Shape Up’ programme for men are among the projects for adults.

But now, together with health chiefs from across the county, councillors are looking to identify further ways the council can support residents to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

At the meeting – also attended by representatives from Hertfordshire’s two Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust – councillors backed the need for a ‘whole system’ approach.

And they endorsed ideas from the Government’s Health Select Committee, which include a ban on the advertising of junk food before 9pm, removing sweets from supermarket checkouts and limiting unhealthy food outlets.

At the meeting, executive member for public health and prevention Cllr Richard Roberts said this was “one of the most difficult and complex issues around health and well-being.”

But he said there was a real ambition to build on current initiatives and to work alongside other organisations.

Nationally, says the report, it’s estimated that the NHS spent £6.1billion on weight related ill health in 2014/15 – which is more than the amount spent on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined.

At the meeting GP Richard Pile stressed the importance of prevention, even if it meant funds being taken away from hospital services to support it.

But he said that ultimately people had to take more responsibility for looking after themselves and their health choices.