MORE than half of Oxfordshire's adults are overweight or obese, new figures show.

Oxfordshire County Council stats reveal that 56 per cent of people are given that classification because of their body mass index (BMI).

Other figures published this month show that one in five children in the county now start primary school overweight, and by the time they leave that has risen to one in three children being overweight or obese.

Read more: Oxfordshire's obesity problem and how to tackle it

Authorities say they are working to get people to exercise and to lose weight if possible – and say 'healthy new town' projects are helping to get people active.

The figures have been published in the county council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), which it releases annually.

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The overweight and obese figure is lower than the national and South East averages, which are 61.3 per cent and 59.7 per cent respectively.

Statistics show people over 16 are more active if they are wealthier.

Read also: Latest hygiene results for Oxfordshire

Proportionately, most people who are active live in the southern parts of South Oxfordshire, in affluent parts of Oxford, and in villages in the Vale of White Horse and in West Oxfordshire.

The report said healthy eating is more difficult for people with low incomes and that there has been a ‘rise’ in the use of ‘emergency food provision’, such as food banks.

However councils said they were pleased that information from 'healthy new town' schemes in Barton and Bicester indicates that they are producing results.

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These projects have received government money, and infrastructure to help or encourage exercise – such as bike lanes – has been built into the developments. Residents can also be ‘socially prescribed’ exercise classes by GPs if they have long-term health conditions.

Cherwell District Council’s lead member for health and wellbeing, Andrew McHugh, said the authority was 'extremely proud' of how the healthy new towns project was running in Bicester.

A total of 13,000 new homes are due to be completed there as part of a 20-year programme. Sports leagues have been set up and two new clubs are running to tempt residents back into exercise.

Read more: More than half of pregnant women overweight or obese – report

Rosie Rowe, Bicester Healthy New Town director, said: “The work we are doing in Bicester is about enabling people to get active by building in exercise into their daily routine, ideally by doing something they enjoy such as meeting up with friends to go for a walk along one of our health routes, cycling to work or school, or enjoying the peace of one of Bicester’s many green spaces.”

In Barton, a total of 885 homes will be completed.

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A man using some of the new outdoor gym equipment in Bicester.

A city council spokeswoman said: “As part of the Barton Healthy New Town we have provided infrastructure for exercise, through running and walking trails in the new park facilities. It has also provided social prescribing for patients with long-term conditions, supporting them to attend short courses and classes that could improve their health.

“Oxford City Council was the first local authority outside London to sign up a declaration to help people reduce their sugar intake in 2018. Pledges include offering free tap water stations in city council-run cafes, and display information about the sugar content of food and drinks next to vending machines in city council-owned leisure centres meaning people can make an informed choice at the point of sale.”

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An artist's impression of one of the new cycle/bus lanes in Barton Park.

People are defined as overweight if their BMI is greater than or equal to 25kg/m2. They are defined obese if their BMI is greater than or equal to 30kg/m2.

But there is concern from some that the measure can be misleading.

Other findings showed that children’s participation in sport and physical activity is declining nationally and most children in Oxfordshire are not meeting the daily physical activity guidelines.

Louise Upton, the city council's cabinet member for Healthy Oxford, said: “We want to support people to make healthy exercise and lifestyle choices. We are helping people build exercise into their daily routine by improving cycling provision and encouraging walking. We provide a range of leisure centres and sports pitches, and have many thriving sports clubs in the city."

She added: "We also support healthy lifestyles through programmes like Sugar Smart, which informs people about hidden sugar so they can choose how much they consume.

"The numbers of people regularly exercising show we’re one of the most active areas in the UK, but we still have startling levels of physical inactivity with all the associated health risks, like high rates of diabetes. This means we must continue to work to help people get active and stay healthy."