Health chiefs have hailed one of British basketball’s biggest successes as a potential life-saver as kids flock to join a sporting revolution.

Hoops4Health made its debut on Tyneside in 2002 as Newcastle Eagles set about getting school children active.

And after touching the lives of more than 60,000 kids across the North East that fledgling community scheme has been rolled out nationally.

“It’s an extraordinary achievement to get so many children engaged in physical activity,” said Dr Danny Ruta, public health director for Newcastle Primary Care Trust.

“Without Hoops4Health, many of them wouldn’t have had the chance to engage in any kind of physical activity.

“And many of them will be children who have been turned off by, or turned away from, so-called majority sports.”

Every BBL franchise has been encouraged to follow Newcastle’s lead with Chester Jets expected to see 10,000 youngsters benefit from the programme next season.

It is estimated that 500,000 children from across the UK will reap tangible rewards from the scheme by the time the London Olympics begins in 2012.

And local authorities across the country have recognised the value of health education through basketball.

Dr Ruta added: “It just shows what can be done to improve children’s health by basing a grassroots, community-based programme around sport.

“Some of the bigger sports around should probably take note.”

Dr Ruta’s last point is a valid one and if Newcastle Eagles, through basketball, are blazing a trail for healthier lifestyles, then sporting rivals are lagging behind.

“Through Hoops4Health the sheer number of children who are now expending more calories than they would have done is incredible.

“The programme has potentially done more to improve the health of children in the North East, and increase life expectancy through regular exercise, than many other conventional medical interventions.”

The Eagles are justifiably proud of a scheme which has dovetailed perfectly with the franchise’s emergence as the most powerful basketball club in Britain.

On the court Newcastle have claimed eight trophies in four years and off it no professional sports organisation in the North East has demonstrated a greater commitment to the community.

Eagles managing director Paul Blake said: “Since the inception of the Hoops4Health programme, the project has moved from strength to strength in this region.

“The healthy living messages relayed by the Eagles players and the community team have clearly made a difference during the past six years.”