A programme that aims to prevent children becoming obese adults has been launched by a group of retired Whanganui health professionals in conjunction with Massey University.

Following a pilot project last year, River City Health Trust's programme started with 23 children at Churton School on Thursday, November 23, and will eventually cover about 300 Whanganui schoolchildren, trust member Mike Webber said.

"We are testing the kids' BMI [body mass index] and Massey University is conducting the fitness testing side of the programme," Mr Webber said.

"We will provide the families of the children with their own copy of the test results and they remain confidential to the individual. We then talk to the parents as a group so that no child is singled out and there is no bullying.

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"We'll go back after six months to see how the children are getting on and whether there have been improvements.

"Massey University also receives a copy of the results and they will write a paper once all the information is available."

Mr Webber said parents approached for permission for their children to participate in the programme had been extremely supportive, with only one parent objecting.

Retired GPs Dr Robin McLachlan and Dr Bevan Chilcott are doing the BMI testing which measures the child's body fat percentage.

"There is a dreadful obesity problem coming to New Zealand, not just Whanganui," Dr McLachlan said.

"We know obesity leads to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

"We need to try to stop it happening and it needs to start with 10, 11 or 12-year-old children. There is a surprising number of children, even at that age, who are on the way to obesity.

"Where we find there is an issue, we advise the families to go and see their own doctor and restrict food intake to a healthy level of good food. The message is prevention, prevention, prevention."

The fitness testing component of the programme is being led by Professor Steve Stannard, of Massey University.

Students Josh Bond, who is doing a post-graduate diploma in sports and exercise science, and Aleisha Cotton, who has just completed her health science degree majoring in sport and exercise, are putting the children through their paces with a multistage shuttle run exercise, known as a beep test.