Panellists for Bite Size report launch including Jamie Oliver

Children's health and food

Bite size

26 February 2018

Breaking down the challenge of inner-city childhood obesity

In brief

In this report, we explore the issue of childhood obesity through the lens of urban environments. We take a detailed look at the evidence on behaviour change, which reinforces the need to consider the role our surroundings play in driving unconscious decision-making.

We draw on the experiences of families living in inner-city London as well as gather insights from data and learnings from interventions on the ground. And finally, we hear from a wide range of experts, who offer their perspectives from working with children and their families at a local, national and international level.

Childhood obesity rates in different London boroughs

Executive summary

This report explores how the characteristics of an inner-city setting contribute to the behavioural drivers of childhood obesity. We focus on three key characteristics of these settings: deprivation, diversity and urbanisation.

We consider how these factors affect behaviour and how interventions to tackle childhood obesity in inner-city areas should be informed by them. This work is framed by a behavioural approach to understanding childhood obesity, and draws on studies and theory from psychology and behavioural economics, ethnography and expert insights.

Obesity has traditionally been classified as an issue of information and willpower, with repeated education initiatives aiming to reduce levels through improving knowledge. Rates have continued to rise, suggesting that knowledge alone does not translate into behaviour change.

Findings from the behavioural sciences have consistently shown that what people eat, and how much they eat, is strongly influenced by simple cues in their surroundings.

[The] report shows that obesity is not caused by parents and kids lacking in willpower – it’s actually our high streets, schools and shared public environments that are having a truly negative impact on kids' health

Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver Chef and campaigner

We now have easier access to a wider variety of highly palatable, energy dense food than ever before. This food is cheap and widely promoted, both in the media and in stores. If we don’t even realise we’re eating more, it becomes incredibly difficult for us to actively reduce our consumption.

This effect is particularly strong when we are under pressure, including the stressful situations people living in deprived areas and on low incomes find themselves in every day. Nowhere is this more apparent than in deprived urban areas, which have a higher density of fast-food outlets and corner stores.

We need to have a more realistic and sympathetic view of people’s eating behaviour, and design our schools, shops and cities with this in mind. We believe that leveraging findings from behavioural science will provide a much needed boost in the fight against childhood obesity, and we look forward to putting these into practice working closely with others.

Bite Size: Breaking down the challenge of inner-city childhood obesity

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