LGA Healthy Futures 2020: Childhood obesity

Childhood obesity is one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century. This report updates the LGA’s previous ‘Healthy weight, healthy futures’ publication (June 2018) and showcases the wide variety of ways in which councils and their partners are leading the way in helping children live healthier lives.

LGA Healthy Futures 2020: Childhood obesity banner
Foreward from Councillor Ian Hudspeth and Councillor Judith Blake

Like other countries across the globe, the UK is putting substantial amounts of time, effort and funding into a range of measures to combat the problem.

Across the country, councils are working hard to make an impact locally but the challenge is significant because the causes of unhealthy weight are complex, long-term and interlinked.

That is why many are shifting to a Whole System Approach (WSA) that not only focuses on behaviour change interventions but increasingly looks at how the social and physical environments in which families live promote obesity. An increasingly wide range of players across council areas are working together to deliver changes that will have a positive effect on obesity rates.

Research from Aberdeen University shows that childhood eating habits can stay with people for life, making the early years a crucial time in the life course. Many of our case study councils are enhancing support for parents at this crucial time and targeting families who will benefit most from interventions.  This concentration on nutrition and healthy eating continues in schools, with timetabled sessions where food is grown, cooked and enjoyed and dedicated healthy lifestyle programmes for pupils and parents.

It is also reflected in a series of measures being put in place to make healthy eating an easier option in our cities, towns and villages; from limiting the proliferation of takeaways and working with them to standardize portions, limit fizzy drink sales and explore food reformulation. In other areas, fruit and vegetable discount clubs are being established and cafes and restaurants which provide healthy options benefit from council promotion and publicity.

Providing more and better opportunities for residents to be physically active is also key. Free swimming sessions, the promotion of the Daily Mile and the Daily Toddle, for younger children, and Park Runs are all measures that are having a positive impact on the health of children and families.

But the focus goes beyond encouraging exercise to creating environments where the opportunity to be more active is built into residents’ everyday lives.  Councils are creating safer routes for walking to school, including banning cars from a certain radius around new schools, creating linear parks and green spaces in regenerated areas and extending the Play Streets model.

A number of councils are undertaking pilots to bring all these elements together in an ultra local setting, allowing them to pin down what works, learn lessons and put in place a secure platform of work which will have a positive impact for generations of children.

Ensuring that systems and structures are in place to sustain these holistic approaches is important for all councils. Staff are embracing the “health in all policies” message and embedding the support and promotion of healthy lifestyles into their day-to-day work, as well as across council policies and strategies.

Momentum is being maintained by enlisting the help of local trailblazers, community leaders, champions and trusted charities and third-party organisations. Evaluations, targets and scrutiny by health and wellbeing boards help keep minds focused.

As one director of public health puts it: “Unhealthy weight is not just a public health problem, it is everyone’s problem, and cuts across all areas of council responsibility”.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth
Chairman, Community Wellbeing Board

Councillor Judith Blake
Chair, Children and Young People’s Board

Case studies