Chubby children in Birmingham are being urged to join a specialist slimming club as figures reveal obesity is soaring in the city.

Watch-It, an innovative weight management programme, is being launched this week after a study of 3,000 school children found nearly one in four were obese and over a third were overweight.

The scheme, which is being run by Heart of Birmingham and South Birmingham Primary Care Trusts, is targeting eight to 11 year olds who are struggling with their weight.

Children and their parents will be advised by Watch-It staff during weekly sessions, which will include advice on healthy eating and how to become more active.

Leisure centres in Hands-worth, Nechells, Northfield and Small Heath, will run the pioneering initiative for one year and families will be asked to commit to a minimum of three months. The first session will be held on Wednesday at Small Heath Leisure Centre.

Dr Robert Moy, senior lecturer in child health at Birmingham University Medical School, said: "Watch-It is not about dieting. The aim of the programme is to achieve weight maintenance, encour-aging families to focus on how to regulate eating behaviour to prevent weight cycling and binge eating.

"This is accompanied by a focus on emotional wellbeing and increasing lifestyle activity."

He added that overweight children often suffered from low self-esteem, which damaged their emotional wellbeing and could lead to comfort-eating.

"In the longer term they run the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart dis-ease, high blood pressure, joint disease and, ultimately, premature death," said Dr Moy. "If action is not taken to change their life-styles and maintain a healthy weight, many children of today could well die before their parents."

* Families who want to take part in Watch-It can ring 0121 446 1021 to book. ..SUPL: