A successful intervention in Leeds shows what can be achieved in partnership with families
It is not controversial to say that an unhealthy diet causes bad health. Nor are the basic elements of healthy eating disputed. An excess of sugar, salt and fat increases vulnerability to stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Obesity raises susceptibility to cancer, and Britain is the sixth most obese country on Earth, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That is a public health emergency. But naming the problem is the easy part. No one disputes the costs in quality of life and depleted health budgets of an obese population, but the quest for solutions gets diverted by ideological arguments around responsibility and choice. And the water is muddied by lobbying from the industries that profit from consumption of obesity-inducing produce.
Historical precedent suggests that science and politics can overcome resistance from businesses that pollute and poison – whether dealing in pesticides or tobacco – but it takes time, and success often starts small. So it is heartening to note that a programme in Leeds has achieved a reduction in childhood obesity over the past four years, becoming the first UK city to reverse a fattening trend. The prevalence rate fell from 9.4% to 8.8%, which may not sound dramatic, but is a significant accomplishment. The best results were among younger children and in more deprived areas. When 28% of English children aged two to 15 are overweight or obese, a national shift on the scale achieved by Leeds would lengthen hundreds of thousands of lives. A significant factor in the Leeds experience appears to be a scheme called Henry (an acronym: health, exercise, nutrition for the really young), which helps parents reward behaviours that prevent obesity in children. Its effectiveness, according to satisfied users, comes through empowerment – sharing strategies that work without hectoring or shaming.
This post was syndicated from Health | The Guardian. Click here to read the full text on the original website.