James Perch

Magpies defenders Danny Simpson and James Perch visited St. George's RC Primary School in Lemington on Tuesday to re-launch a major Newcastle United health and wellbeing initiative.

The players were attending the start of Newcastle United Foundation's brand new Match Fit programme, passing on their tips about healthy eating and keeping fit to a class of Year 4 pupils who are learning about how to lead a fit and active lifestyle.

Match Fit aims to improve nutritional knowledge, fitness levels and football skills through a six-week programme which combines classroom-based lessons and fun football sessions outdoors.

Each pupil will receive two hours of 'training' from Newcastle United Foundation coaches, who use examples from the first team diet and fitness regime to reinforce key messages about eating well and keeping fit and active.

Match Fit has been refunded for three years by the PLPFA Community Fund with match funding from NHS North of Tyne, the Strategic Health Authority, Commmunities for Health and People's Postcode Trust.

The £360,000 project will enable the Foundation to deliver its six-week Match Fit course in 50 primary schools a year in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, reaching 4,500 children in total and targeting some of the most disadvantaged communities in the region.

The project was first launched in ten schools in the East End of Newcastle in 2008 and has since grown to become a flagship project in the region, joining a partnership of agencies aiming to tackle the rise childhood obesity.

Ian Skinner, health and wellbeing co-ordinator at Newcastle United Foundation, said: "It is great news that we have secured funding for another three-year programme, helping us reach new schools for the first time with these important messages.

"With the support of our partner, Newcastle Nutrition, we have completely revamped the programme to ensure the content is current and in line with government guidelines for young people."

Professor Stephen Singleton OBE, medical director at NHS North of England, said: "We are delighted to be supporting Newcastle United's Match Fit project. The North-East still has the highest levels of child obesity in the country and although the NHS has been working hard to reverse this worrying trend, we know we cannot do it alone.

"Obesity is a very serious problem and increases a child's risk of developing diabetes or heart disease and their likelihood of having a stroke or developing some forms of cancer and even infertility in later life.

"The Match Fit project reinforces the key Change4Life messages to encourage children to eat well, move more and live longer with the added incentive for youngsters to get fit and healthy just like their footballing heroes. It is fantastic to see so many local schools taking part, especially in such a landmark Olympic year."

Dr Dawn Scott, public health consultant at NHS North of Tyne, which works on behalf of Newcastle and North Tyneside Primary Care Trusts and Northumberland Care Trust, added: "Parts of the north of Tyne area have higher levels of obesity than others, and as such programmes such as Match Fit help us concentrate our efforts within a targeted geographical area.

"We can then encourage children and their families from early years through to teens to move more and eat well."

And Dr Meng Khaw, joint director of public health for Newcastle PCT and Newcastle City Council, commented: "We know that being overweight or obese can lead to chronic and more serious ill health and the local NHS and the council, along with partners and other local organisations, children and their parents are working together to help people become healthier.

"Strategies and projects that we have in place to improve children's health and address childhood obesity are having a positive impact and w e are seeing real progress thanks to programmes like Match Fit.

"By supporting children and young people to become more active and follow healthier lifestyles we are ensuring that we are not storing up problems for the future."


Danny Simpson and James Perch