Amongst reception and year 6 children, there’s a growing trend of excess weight, particularly present in deprived areas of the UK, where 27.5% of 2019/2020 Year 6 children living in the most deprived areas were found to be obese compared to 11.9% of those living in the least deprived areas. Obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS £6 billion a year, and due to the perceived relationship between COVID-19 and obesity, the UK government has recently unveiled a weight loss strategy.
The LGA Trailblazer Programme is a three-year programme, bringing together the Local Government Association (LGA), Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Public Health England (PHE) and several councils all around the country facing different childhood obesity challenges. The programme aims to lead innovative action in local communities to address these challenges at a local level.
FutureGov played the role of design support at both a council and programme level. We supported the development of innovative solutions to localised challenges through capability-building workshops and facilitating the sharing of learnings between councils.
Initially supporting thirteen councils through a discovery process, we built councils’ capabilities to map out the systems they would be working in, conduct an exploratory discovery and develop ideas to test within communities. Each council focused on a specific challenge area, identifying unique ways to create change. We also moderated a slack channel to foster a sense of community among the councils and support the wider sharing of learning.
Five councils were selected to continue the programme, receiving funding to develop the interventions they believed could create positive change within their local system. We provided tailored methodology support for four of these councils, offering different types of capability-building to each council based on their specific needs, including workshops on design and systems thinking, up skilling in research methods, synthesis, insight building and prototyping.
We also worked closely with the programme working group to support wider learning across the programme. This culminated in ambitious Trailblazer events, engaging a broad audience of health, food industry, place and obesity experts.
Lewisham Council: restricting fast food advertising
Lewisham aimed to reduce local childhood obesity through two advertising-focused strategies:
- increasing the restriction of HFSS out of home (OOH) advertising
- using unsold OOH advertising space to promote a locally co-produced public health campaign
To support the Lewisham team, we implemented guiding principles and a community-centred co-design approach to the development of behaviour change initiatives, for residents and local businesses. We facilitated Lewisham and their selected partners (including media companies Outcast and JCdecaux, as well local community groups) to work together using their collective strengths and assets, creating space for different opinions to be shared in a constructive way.
We helped grow a shared understanding of co-design and its importance in community change and place-based work. By providing guidance on developing a plan for co-design sessions, Lewisham was able to design and test healthy messaging campaigns with residents, drawing on nationwide examples. They’re also now prepared to facilitate their partnership meetings independently.
The public health campaign will be developed with Lewisham families, children, young people and organisations. It will be targeted to reach communities who experience the widest inequalities in childhood obesity.
Nottinghamshire County Council: early years food environment programme
Nottinghamshire focussed on local Children’s Centres, looking to build providers’ capabilities to deliver healthier food for young children out of the home, providing them with greater opportunities to learn about and eat healthier foods. This was in addition to creating greater opportunities for parents to feed and teach young children about healthy eating in the home.
We supported the project team to use prototyping to test ideas, gather feedback from experiments and use co-design methods to make sure they were effectively engaging with the community.
Following initial ideation sessions, we ran a prototype testing session with stakeholders in the local Early Years system, using their expertise to test ideas for a recipe box for lower-income families who use the Children’s Centres. We later revisited this data for remote analysis and synthesis sessions when COVID-19 restrictions made face-to-face sessions impossible.
We helped Nottinghamshire take a person-centred approach by using prototyping to test if their proposed service would work before they spent valuable time and money implementing it.
Their recipe box is now in the development phase and the project team are continuing to test and iterate the concept with parents and stakeholders, through online digital platforms, alongside several other action areas. In one of their latest updates, the project team shared their reflections on the impact the pandemic had on local food security and how their concepts were more essential than ever to support struggling local families. As a result, they decided to leverage their Children’s Centre assets to launch a FOOD club intervention in partnership with their long-standing partners at Family Action. This is an intervention which utilizes Fare Share’s food distribution service to deliver fresh, surplus produce (which would normally be headed for landfill) to Nottinghamshire’s Children’s Centres. Families would then be able to access this fresh produce (worth approx £15-£20) on a weekly basis for around £3.50.
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham plans to test its powers to influence the social and economic determinants of health to shift towards healthier food and physical activity economy and environment.
- using the apprenticeship levy to offer health, food, nutrition and physical activity focused apprenticeships and support growth in this sector.
- a city-wide proportionate universalism approach will be taken to target employment opportunities towards 15-19-year-olds in the most deprived areas where rates of obesity are highest.
- working with local universities to embed health messaging in wider employment training to upskill a generation that could apply their knowledge in the home and as future parents.
- creating an innovative alternative local metric, the “Birmingham Basket” which would capture local retail spend metrics to identify consumer retail habits and inform policy development and measure the impact of the initiatives.
- planning & Inclusive Growth - use leverage to embed the healthy city development toolkit into local planning policy, and to influence key strategic planning policy to ensure the creation of a healthy food economy. The pilot final version of the Healthy City Planning toolkit through Perry Barr Phase 2 Commonwealth Games development site
- planning and Development - through our planning and development levers, we can scope how policies and guidance deliver measurable outcomes against the drivers of childhood obesity. For example, ensuring that community food growing opportunities are maximised, connectivity and active travel are prioritised, and that opportunities for habitual and planned physical activity and sport are enhanced.
We facilitated early ideation and prioritisation sessions with their multidisciplinary team; a mix of public health, university professors and local social entrepreneurs. We discussed how they could take a resident-centred approach to test these ideas, how they could involve residents and local business owners to take a more participatory approach rather than a top-down approach to change.
Pennine Lancashire consortium: inter-district planning powers and Elected Members capability-building
Pennine Lancashire identified four opportunity areas to develop a local approach to supporting children and families in deprived areas. To increase demand for healthy, sustainable food locally they wanted to target:
- local planning/policy impact
- local systems leadership
- business growth and development programme
- social movements for a healthier food offer
We supported the team in developing a test and learn approach to the design and delivery of a learning experience for Elected Members. The experience aims to support leaders to become advocates for the healthy weight agenda and champion change for the wider system.
The Pennine Lancashire team have also prototyped ideas for a training programme and community-led social movements, continuing to create ways to simulate potential impact.
Bradford Council: using community assets as a platform for change
In Bradford, the council and their partner Born in Bradford aimed to engage with local partners to use local Islamic Religious Settings (IRS) as a crucial platform for addressing Bradford’s childhood obesity challenges.
We took on a greater coaching role to help the team use design and agile methodologies to collaborate with a range of stakeholders. The aim was to build engaging and relevant curriculum materials combining nutritional guidance and the Islamic narrative for children attending Bradford’s Madrassa.
The project team aims to develop the potential of Islamic Religious Settings as a platform for positive healthy messaging in Bradford communities, as an opportunity to address the health inequalities in the city. Following the implementation of new health-focused curricula, the project team will work closely with a local Mosque and its Madrassa staff to test ways to support the wider community.
What’s next for COTP?
Following a pause during COVID-19, the programme is starting up again, continuing to support councils to test innovative approaches to tackling the systemic challenge of childhood obesity. Follow LGA trailblazer news for further updates.