Leeds childhood obesity programme
Leeds City Council has taken a whole system strength focused approach to tackling child obesity to transform the way people’s health and social care needs are supported. A key element of this approach is the council’s public health service working closely with the national charity HENRY (Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young) delivering training to children’s centre practitioners and Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust health visitors to enable them to offer a range of programmes for parents and young children in community settings. Around 60 HENRY programmes were delivered by our Leeds children centres in 2019. Over 600 families took part in either the group programme or one to one support during the same period. Data showed obesity levels fell from 9.4% to 8.8% in reception children in Leeds.
Leeds adopted a citywide child obesity strategy in 2008 with HENRY training and family programmes being a central component of the approach. The HENRY group programme is an eight-week programme which helps parents to support their children as they grow. It covers what a child needs to have a healthy start including diet, physical activity, setting goals and looking at strategies that can be used to help parents establish boundaries whilst also being responsive to their child.
In 2018, Leeds City Council was the first local authority in Yorkshire to formally adopt the Healthy Weight Declaration. The declaration is a commitment to promote healthy weight across all areas of the organisation with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of the local population. The council also continued to fund Leeds Healthy School’s Standard award scheme, improving the quality of school food, physical activity and the personal, social, health and economic curriculum.
What has been delivered?
Around 60 HENRY programmes were delivered by our Leeds children centres in 2019. Over 600 families took part in either the group programme or one to one support during the same period. Over 1400 Leeds early years practitioners from the public, voluntary and private sectors have now been trained in the HENRY approach. In addition the multi-agency Child Healthy Weight Partnership and the delivery of Leeds Child Healthy Weight Plan focuses on prevention and supporting families.
What was the impact/next step?
Research published in 2019 demonstrated the significant impact of the work in Leeds. The research, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, looked at national data collected through the National Child Measurement Programme from 2009-2017. It showed that Leeds was challenging national trends at the time in two key areas - lower levels of obesity overall and particularly among the most deprived children in the city. The data showed obesity levels fell from 9.4% to 8.8% in reception children, while levels remained unchanged in similar cities (9.8%-9.8%), and for England as a whole (9.5%-9.4%). The drop primarily affected the most deprived children in Leeds, with levels falling from 11.5%-10.5%. The obesity rate for Leeds reception children (five-year data combined) has risen slightly since 2018 to 9.2%. However, the rate remains below that of England (9.6%) and Yorkshire and Humber (9.9%). Obesity rates for reception-aged children in the most deprived areas have remained relatively stable (10.9 %).
As we move into the recovery phase of the pandemic, measures include:
- Increased availability of healthier options in leisure centre vending machines reducing the amount of fat, sugar and salt sold
- Piloting Leeds Schools Healthy Weight Declaration with Active Travel campaigns such as car-free day and Walk It Ride It planned.
- Highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding for both healthy weight and the environment and the importance of reducing the advertising of unhealthy foods; learning from other areas such as alcohol and gambling.
- Online HENRY parent support groups have also been made available; 21 groups have been delivered so far this year, a further 22 groups are planned ensuring we are on track to meet our target to offer 90 groups this year. Now Children centres are reopening face to face HENRY groups are being re-established. A new HENRY programme for parents with children aged 5-12 has also been commissioned.