THOUSANDS of children are tapping into the healthy living message, thanks to a team of superheroes - and Northumbrian Water.
The company’s H2O gang are encouraging youngsters across the region to eat well, exercise more and drink plenty of water as part of the national Change4Life campaign.
The colourful characters were originally launched by the company two years ago to encourage young people to drink more water and reaffirm the message that water is an essential ingredient for a healthy life.
But having now teamed up with NHS North East, the superheroes are championing a broader health message – and delivering it to an even wider audience.
Thirty thousand copies of the H2O Gang’s latest comic have been distributed to the region’s primary schools, doctors’ waiting rooms and children’s hospital wards to help raise health awareness.
In the new adventure, the superheroes’ arch enemy, Dr Dry, has an evil plan to take over the world by making children unhealthy and inactive with junk food, fizzy drinks and video games. Luckily, H2O gang leader Karl realises what is happening and saves the day, by signing the rest of the gang up to the Change4Life programme.
And the cartoon characters’ capers – their sixth instalment – are now sending out the healthy challenge message to a global online audience.
The latest story has been brought to life on ITV’s Signed Stories website www.signedstories.com , which features children’s stories with sign language and subtitles.
The site was launched in 2008 to give all the family, both deaf and hearing, the opportunity to share the enjoyment of storytelling and the H20 gang is the first comic book to feature on the site.
Louise Hunter, head of corporate responsibility at Northumbrian Water, said: “Northumbrian Water developed the H2O gang comic series to help our younger customers understand how important water is for life, health and the environment in a fun, creative and appealing way.
“We’re thrilled that modern technology has allowed us to develop the latest comic, the sixth in the series, into a visual adventure that both deaf and hearing youngsters can enjoy.”
The H2O Gang have also been out and about in the region, delivering the healthy living message to youngsters in schools.
“We wanted to get across key messages, such as how important it is to drink water, take regular exercise and eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but in a different way.
“Working with the strategic health authority we’ve been able to bring all those messages together and use the characters to get that across in a fun way.
“Now having the story on the Signed Stories website means we can reach an even wider audience.”
Louise said feedback from youngsters about the campaign had already been positive.
“There’s a real mix in the knowledge youngsters have,” she said.
“A lot of children have taken on board the message of swapping fizzy drinks for water.
“And to have a healthy life they need to stay hydrated with water the best way to do that.”
Health bosses have also praised the project for getting a serious health message across to children in a fun, creative and appealing way.
Professor Stephen Singleton, regional director of public health, said: “Obesity levels in the North East tend to be higher than the rest of England. “Sadly, if children have a poor diet and don’t exercise enough, they are at higher risk of developing all sorts of diseases in later life, including heart problems, various cancers and diabetes.
“Promoting healthy choices as early as possible in a child’s development is crucial if we are to achieve our vision to become the healthiest place in England.
“We need to find creative ways of doing this and this is an example of how we can work to do that.”
Louise now hopes the superheroes’ message will reach even more young people.
“It’s the first time as a company we’ve done anything like this – something really different and creative.
“Because the comic will go to every primary school, every Surestart centre and also be distributed through local Primary Health Care Trusts, many more people are able to read it and having it online is a great step forward.
“We’re continuing to develop the project. It’s fun, kids love it but at the same time it’s delivering a really important message.”