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Making obesity history

A new system developed by Leeds Beckett University to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis has been unveiled today.

Illustration of healthy activities

The unique programme, commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) and developed by Leeds Beckett and local authorities, aims to foster bespoke solutions for every area of the country.

The project will provide an over-arching strategy to bring together a wide range of organisations to tackle England's burgeoning obesity problem.

Currently, 23% of 4 to-5-year-olds in England are obese or overweight, rising to 34% for 10 to 11-year- olds.

As the population ages, the figures get worse: 64% of adults in England are overweight or obese, with the proportion of obese adults doubling between 1993 and 2017.

As a result, the strain on public services, and particularly the NHS, increases each year. The overall cost of obesity to wider society is estimated at £27 billion a year.

The guide to improving the nation’s health - entitled Whole Systems Approach to Obesity - was launched today (Thursday 25 July 2019) by PHE's chief executive Duncan Selbie.

It aims to bring together key local organisations to target areas including healthier menus in schools, hospitals and workplaces and encouraging cycling and walking to work.

Also key to the programme are providing wider access to weight management support groups and improving knowledge about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.

Lead researcher, Professor Paul Gately, of Leeds Beckett's Carnegie School of Sport, said the programme had massive potential.

"We need a step change in the way we tackle obesity in this country," said Professor Gately. "Research has identified not only the causes, but new ways of working for local authorities to prevent and tackle obesity.”

"This really could be the turning point. For too long, organisations have worked independently to tackle an issue that is only getting worse.

"After four years of research and planning, we have worked with PHE, the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Public Health to develop an approach and accompanying resources.

“These will enable all the agencies involved in improving people's health to join forces and make tackling obesity a reality.

“Having worked with our pilot local authorities, this tried and tested approach will now be rolled out nationally.”

Infographic of rising obesity rates in England

The programme has been designed for use by any local authority in the country and was developed in partnership with four councils: London Borough of Lewisham, Durham County Council, Gloucestershire County Council and North Kesteven District Council.

The programme was then tested with a further seven local authorities (Bradford, Halton, Oldham, Dudley, Solihull, Suffolk and Hertfordshire), before being further refined in 60 other local authorities from across England.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said: “Implementing a whole systems approach can revolutionise the way local authorities tackle obesity.

“Through coordinated collaboration, we can ensure sustainable change creates lasting, healthy environments.

“Local authorities, who know their communities best, will be better placed to tackle obesity in the right context for local people.”

Produced specifically for local authorities and commissioners, the guide explains that tackling obesity could have positive impacts in areas such as the environment, social care, wellbeing and employability.

It is based around a six-phase programme includes understanding local factors contributing to obesity rates, and identifying barriers to achieving a healthy weight, such as high concentrations of fast food outlets.

The guide is not a quick fix, and would need long-term monitoring, adapting to societal changes.

The guide states: “It is clear that no one organisation has all the answers or all the responsibility to tackle obesity and promote a healthy weight. It is “everybody’s business”.

“Lifestyle behaviour interventions are important to help individuals and families on a healthier weight journey.

“However, this isn’t sufficient to tackle the issues at a population level. A collaborative whole systems approach is likely to be more effective to promote healthy weight in children, young people and families rather than single interventions on their own.

“Involving local communities in the approach will help ensure that the resulting programme of work takes account of the views, knowledge and priorities of the communities who are, ultimately, the beneficiaries of whole system efforts to address obesity.”

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