Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility Giving families access to healthy options - Impact on Urban Health
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Childhood obesity

Giving families access to healthy options

30 September 2019
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4 min read

Positively changing home environments can be difficult. Carole Coulon, Portfolio Manager for childhood obesity, shares the current work we're doing improving children's health in homes and early years settings.

Our childhood obesity programme aims to improve children’s health in urban areas. Through our programme’s ‘home’ strand, we’re working to change the environments where children take their first steps into the world of food and physical activity.

Our ethnographic research show that homes and early years settings have a long-lasting impact on a child’s health. From the availability of cooking equipment to spaces for play; these environments help children to access nutritious food options and develop healthy eating habits. 

The evidence is clear on the factors that influence children’s weight in the home and early years settings. However there is limited evidence on what works to tackle childhood obesity.

 

Changing the home environment is challenging

Homes are private spaces, making it challenging to influence these environments at scale. Meanwhile, food standards are not consistently applied across all early years settings.

The evidence base suggests that the places that we spend our time have a significant impact on our food and activity choices. We know that nurseries can provide children with up to three meals each weekday. These can have a significant impact on children’s overall consumption. At their best, they can make the healthier option the default option.

While the evidence is clear on the factors that influence children’s weight in the home and early years settings. There is limited evidence on what works to tackle childhood obesity in those environments. For example, we know that breastfeeding is linked to lower rates of childhood obesity, but we haven’t seen initiatives make large-scale improvements in breastfeeding rates. A lot of conversations about early years are framed around health interventions, like work led by midwives and health visitors. But these services are already stretched. We’re interested in what initiatives will complement and support statutory activity.

A lot of conversations about early years are framed around statutory sector health interventions. But these services are already stretched. We’re interested in what initiatives will complement and support statutory activity.

Carole Coulon Portfolio Manager for childhood obesity

That’s why we look to work with a range of organisations – including social enterprises, statutory services, housing providers, children’s centres, nurseries and community groups. With these organisations, we can test new products and services that support families to access healthier food options and chances to be active. By trialling projects in our local area, we plan to build and share an evidence base for how to create healthy home environments.

A lot of conversations about early years are framed around statutory sector health interventions. But these services are already stretched. We’re interested in what initiatives will complement and support statutory activity.

 

Testing projects with partners to improve children’s health

We are testing projects in three key areas:

  • Changing the home environment and helping families access healthy food to take back into the home. For example, we are working with Alexandra Rose Charity to provide fruit and veg vouchers for families on low incomes, to help them buy healthier produce from their local markets. Over the next three years, we plan to reach 1,000 families in Southwark.
  • Embedding healthy practices in children’s centres and nurseries. For example, we recently launched our Early Years Chef Academy in partnership with the London Early Years Foundation. This provides nursery chefs with professional qualifications and is helping to develop standards for healthy food in nurseries. Over the next two years, we are piloting training modules with 20 chefs in Lambeth and Southwark, with a view to rolling out the scheme across the boroughs.
  • Tackling the barriers that new parents on a low income face when accessing healthy food options for themselves and their babies. This involves encouraging the healthy development of maternal weight gain and supporting breastfeeding, weaning and infant feeding. For example, we are working with King’s College London to explore feeding practices in children who are born at an unhealthy weight. The findings will be used to inform interventions for mothers at risk of having babies with a larger birth weight.

Over the next 12 months, we want to explore other projects under these three key areas. If you have an idea for a project that will help families to access healthy food options for their home, embed healthy practices in nurseries and support breastfeeding and infant weaning, please get in touch.