Children's health and food

Creating change across our streets to tackle childhood obesity

30 September 2019
4 min read

The outside space around us plays a central role in influencing what we eat. We share how we're working across sectors to address obesogenic streets and what our next steps are through our ‘streets’ strand.

Jessica Attard
Jessica Attard
Portfolio Manager

The way we understand them at the Charity, our ‘streets’ are all around us. They’re the routes our children walk to school and the green spaces in which they play and offer opportunities for active travel. They encompass food businesses, advertising and public space.

As soon as families step outside their front door, they’re bombarded with messages to eat more and move less. This obesogenic environment has intensified in recent years. It’s also amplified in inner-city areas. Homes and schools can do their bit to provide healthier options, so in our programme’s third strand, we have a focus on the street environment.


Working across sectors

Over the past three years, we’ve funded over £2 million worth of initiatives to make the streets in Lambeth and Southwark healthier. As part of our whole-systems approach, we work with a broad network of committed partners.

For example, we’ve been working with food businesses, including some of the UK’s top retailers and manufacturers, to improve their environments by providing healthier, affordable and convenient options. We’ve supported them to reformulate products to reduce their calorie content and change the layout and range of choices. All have the aim to nudge people towards healthier options.

My colleague Matt Towner is in the early stages of supporting healthier challenger brands – mostly food start-ups which can disrupt the current offer – to reach the market. He’s also exploring new business models that help families to access healthier meals. Meanwhile, we’ve begun funding work to improve infrastructure for active travel and create green spaces for teenagers.


What we’ve learned about street environments

There are a few key learnings that have informed our thinking at the Charity:

  1. Families do want to eat healthily. The reality though is that this is often overridden by the need for convenience, affordability and tastiness. Our food system needs to do much better at providing options that are both healthy and meet these needs.
  2. The private sector has an important role to play. From independent chicken shops to multinational manufacturers, the private sector has great influence over food environments. As our work with ShareAction demonstrates, so do the shareholders of these businesses. And let’s be clear, improving their food offering isn’t just good for their customers’ health, it’s good for business too. Companies who wish to stay relevant and competitive will need to up their game, quickly.
  3. Routes from school are a key window of opportunity, as we discovered recently through working with the RSPH. On the way home from school children are unsupervised, have change in their pockets and few places to go where they feel welcome. This results in children spending time in fast food outlets after school, consuming unhealthy food and drink. We need to design public spaces with children and teens in mind


The future of our streets

We’ve got a lot more work to do to reduce childhood obesity in our boroughs. Going forward, we’ll be:

  • considering how to change the rules that underpin our food system. We’ll do this to support healthier, affordable products to reach the market through alternative supply chains
  • looking at the policy environment which influences the streets. For example, looking at how local licensing policies and national subsidy can influence people’s food options. We’ll also be exploring how we can narrow the gap between current standards and best practice when it comes to redeveloping the built environment.
  • doing more to support our partners to share and learn from one another 

It’s an exciting time at the Charity, particularly in my role leading the streets strand as I begin to see our projects deliver real impact. I’m positive about the future of our streets and believe it is possible to change the rules under which they currently operate, for the better.

We’ll be sharing what we see and learn about what works and what doesn’t. To keep up-to-date on our progress, sign up to our newsletter today.