In 2015, Leeds Beckett began a three-year programme, commissioned by Public Health England, which aims to enable local authorities to make a major step change in their ability to tackle obesity through a more coordinated approach. Previous research has suggested that only by taking a whole systems approach – linking a whole range of sectors and influences including planning, housing, transport, children’s and adult’s services, business and health - can local authorities make significant inroads into tackling obesity and improve quality of life, save money and create sustained prosperity for local areas.
Nearly 300 people were at the conference at Leeds Town Hall to discuss emerging findings from the programme. The audience included colleagues from local authorities all over the country, as well as from community and voluntary groups, national and regional organisations, research bodies and the NHS, interested in finding new and better ways of tackling obesity.
The conference marked the end of the first year of the three-year programme, which aims to apply new learning about creating whole systems approaches to one of the most challenging and complex problems facing society.
The audience heard speakers from Public Health England, the Association of Directors of Public Health and Leeds Beckett, as well as Ian Fytche, CEO of North Kesteven District Council, one of the local authorities piloting the new approach.
Speakers stressed the urgency and importance of tackling obesity with one third of children aged 2 to 15 being overweight or obese, and younger generations becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. They also outlined the progress being made in designing a better approach, which brings together all of the organisations and groups that can change the environment in which we all live, and make it easier to make healthier choices.
Experts at Leeds Beckett are exploring how local authorities can use their leadership, levers, and relationships with stakeholders and communities to create a more effective, sustainable, system-wide approach to tackling obesity. Delegates also attended discussions led by Public Health England, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Children’s Food Trust, the Soil Association, Helping Overcome Obesity Problems (HOOP) and a range of researchers from Leeds Beckett, The University of Leeds, Newcastle University, London Metropolitan University and Cambridge University.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Tackling obesity is one of our major priorities. We know that where we live, work and play encourages us to consume too many calories and lead sedentary lifestyles. We need action from across society to support healthier places that in turn help people to achieve a healthier weight. The Whole Systems Obesity programme will help local authorities to do just that.”
Professor Jim McManus, of the Association of Directors of Public Health, which is a partner in the programme, added: “We’ve been talking to people all over the country and internationally to understand the challenges of raising and tackling the issue of obesity. We know it’s complex – but the response we have had to this programme just goes to show how many people are committed to thinking differently about this challenging issue – we’ve a way to go, but it’s been great to hear the enthusiasm as well as lots of great ideas.”
Paul Gately, Professor of Exercise and Obesity at Leeds Beckett, said: “Over the last year we’ve been working on this programme to understand the connection obesity has to so many local priorities and what we can learn from other countries and sectors. We know that we can tackle obesity more effectively and at the conference we’ve heard from many different organisations from all over the country, pooling their expertise and experiences. The next two years will be very exciting as we use that to continue to shape a new approach.”
Pinki Sahota, Professor of Nutrition and Childhood Obesity at Leeds Beckett, added: “We were thrilled that so many people wanted to come to our event. I had many useful conversations with colleagues about the food agenda – there are many initiatives under way that are aiming to help local authorities build real partnerships with local people and involve them in coming up with answers that can make a real difference to so many people who are affected by excess weight.”