CIVIC chiefs have vowed to tackle rising levels of childhood obesity in Southampton amid fears that overweight youngsters are heading for an early grave.

New figures show that almost a quarter of five-year-olds are either overweight or obese and more than a third of all 11-year-olds are in the same category.

Both figures are above the national average - and the statistics for adults in the city are even higher.

Now the city council has devised an action plan for the prevention and management of childhood obesity in Southampton between now and 2022.

The authority is vowing to preserve areas where children can exercise, encourage walking and cycling and promote healthy food in facilities such as hospitals and leisure centres.

Cllr Dave Shields, cabinet member for health, said: "The problem is not unique to Southampton but there's no reason for complacency.

"Contributory factors include children's diets, lack of exercise and the way life is structured, which often doesn't allow for as much exercise as people require.

"Everyone needs to work together to solve this. If we don't do anything it will result in children developing a range of health problems in later life."

The issue of childhood obesity was raised at a meeting of the city's health and wellbeing board.

A report to members said: "In Southampton 23.2 per cent of children in year R (five-year-olds) are either overweight or obese (the England average is 22.6 per cent).

"Among year 6 pupils (11-year-olds) levels of overweight and obesity increase to 35 per cent (the England average is 34.2 per cent).

"Among adults in Southampton, 62.6 per cent are either overweight or obese."

The report said obesity in childhood was associated with poor academic performance and low self-esteem, plus a range of health issues including high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes as well as premature mortality in adulthood.

At the same meeting members were presented with a separate report that highlighted the need to encourage people of all ages to take more exercise.

One of the council's priorities is ensuring that more children walk to school and more adults either walk or cycle to work.

Cllr Shields added: "We need to find out why people aren't doing that and devise ways of overcoming it."