Well done to Leeds for bucking the trend and being the only city in England to reduce its rates of obesity of Reception-aged children over 2009-2017. A citywide childhood obesity strategy, including the HENRY intervention programme with training for early years practitioners and health professionals, and family support, was a major part of this success.
Incidentally, the HENRY programme was mostly implemented through children's centres, which sounds yet more alarm bells as large numbers of centres continue to be closed across the country.
Despite commendable progress in Leeds, however, the obesity problem continues to expand along with our waistlines.
We report in this issue (pages 12-13) on the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum's recent seminar on child obesity, where the DfE confirmed that the ‘healthy schools rating scheme’ would finally go ahead this year, albeit on a voluntary basis. Concerns were voiced about Ofsted's lack of emphasis on inspecting schools' role in tackling obesity, although the new inspection handbook coming into force in September does refer to healthy food and activity under Personal Development.
There is always a debate with any public health campaign about how prescriptive and invasive action should be. Another speaker presented his research into changing dietary habits of children and adults in low-income families. The best results came when they were supplied with healthy meal kits, taking away cost and time and adding knowledge – ‘invasive’ but highly effective.
More intensive and prescriptive intervention is needed, regardless of concerns about freedom of choice, if we are to give children healthy futures. And while we are at it, let's sort out hospital food. As last week's stories showed, lots of unhealthy food is being offered in the institutions trying to remedy the problems it causes.