Children as young as two are being referred to a specialist weight programme to help combat their obesity.

It comes as it emerged NHS Lothian has spent close to £500,000 in the last two years on its children’s weight management service.

One expert on obesity has described the situation in the region as an “absolute horror” story.

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A total of 379 youngsters aged between two and 17 were referred for treatment at a cost to the health board of £229,546 in 2016-17 - which works out at £605 per child.

NHS Lothian forked out £248,158 for the period 2015-16, treating 355 youngsters who they describe as being “significantly overweight”.

Children referred to the programme are assigned a health coach, who offers families advice on healthy eating, physical activity and making positive lifestyle choices.

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said it was “no surprise” that NHS Lothian was having to invest the sums involved in providing a weight management service for children.

He said: “It’s absolute horror that we have overweight and obese children even as young as one.

“To me it’s no surprise that this sort of money is being spent by Lothian.

“I find it a horror because we have known for a long time that the initiation or the first seeds of obesity are implanted in the womb and we have done nothing about addressing that issue.

“So, it’s being going on for a long time and finally Lothian are having to spend a lot of money in treating something which is eminently preventable.”

According to statistics from the Scottish Government a fifth of children in their first year at primary school are at risk of being overweight or obese.

Prof Alison McCallum, Director of Public Health and Health Policy, said: “NHS Lothian provides a range of services to support children and young people who are above a healthier weight than is recommended for their age and height.

“We also provide a specialist one-to-one service for children and families who may require more detailed support than what is available via Get Going.

“Between 2015-16 and 2016-17 there was a very modest increase in the number of children using these services.

“Child healthy weight services are funded by Scottish Government and our budget for the current financial year is £229,546.”

Jane-Claire Judson, national director of Diabetes Scotland, said: “It is both worrying and encouraging that our NHS has invested in weight management programmes for children as young as two years old.

“While it’s positive that children are getting the support they need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it is very concerning that such a service is required.”