Cracking the childhood obesity problem

Our first project here at Healthy Living Platform is to deliver a Healthy Living Programme for Lambeth Early Action Partnership (LEAP) to families with children four years old. The project is called Incredible Edible LEAP (IE LEAP) and we offer cook & eat sessions, healthy veg bags to take home, physical activity such as zumba and yoga, and we do lots of food growing.
A major goal of the LEAP Healthy Living programme is to reduce childhood obesity, so it was with great interest that we read recently that Leeds has had some success in reducing the number of children who are extremely overweight. Although the decline is small (-6.4%), most other areas are still recording an increase in childhood obesity. We took the news as an opportunity to review what we are doing and see if it there is anything we can add in from Leeds.
So what are we doing?
We are just one part of LEAP and one part of a programme that is working towards addressing childhood obesity. The programme consists of:
  • Training childcare professionals in healthy eating led by Public Health
  • working with local businesses to offer healthy choices – a programme led by the council’s food safety team
  • healthy cook & eat sessions, veg bags to take home, with food growing and exercise, led by us, Health Living Platform.
Leeds attributes its success to the existence of an 8 week programme that taught parents how to cook healthy meals. We don’t think the answer is that simple though, as that same programme is available in many areas and has not had the same success.
While no-one has the answer we are working on the principle that we need to make changes at many different levels. Of course childcare facilities should be well briefed and should be offering healthy options, of course parents do need to receive good advice and may benefit from training, and local businesses can offer healthier alternatives. But fundamentally our culture and environment is a major challenge. It is so difficult to walk through a supermarket and come out with only healthy produce. For parents with small children who are sleep-deprived and living in low incomes in often quite poor housing it is even more difficult. 
We are passionate about community, and have been working with families to coproduce solutions. What we have come up with is regular weekly days where we cook together in the morning, do some exercise and/or some gardening, then we all sit down and eat a healthy meal together (parents and children – small children might just need their food mashed up a bit). And then the families go home with a free bag of vegetables to cook during the week. The vegetables are sourced with grateful thanks by City Harvest, who source them from food businesses who have surplus (saving food from going to waste).
How will we know we have been successful? We don’t expect any change in public health figures for several years yet, but we are receiving good reports from those taking part in our sessions. We have some great stories that we hope to share with you via this website and of course there will be extensive evaluation as we adapt and refine the programme over the next few years. We have over 250 people engaged in the project and cook and eat with over 100 people each week. 
At the moment our main target is to engage more people – in fact all of the eligible families in the four wards that the project covers, namely Stockwell, Vassall, Coldharbour and Tulse Hill. It may be that one of the reasons that Leeds has been successful is the fact that it has had good coverage and that it has had particular success in the most deprived areas of the city. We know that there is a strong correlation between income and childhood obesity.
In Lambeth more deprived reception children are 1.4 times more likely to be overweight. In the four Lambeth wards that we are working in, childhood obesity rates are higher than average. 29% of 5 year olds in the LEAP area were overweight or obese in 2015/16 compared with 22% for the non-LEAP wards.
If your would like to be involved in this project, either because you are a family with 0-4 year old living the the LEAP area, or if you would like to volunteer or work with us in some way please do get into by emailing incredibleedibleleap@gmail.com or healthylivingplatform@gmail.com