HENRY plays a key role in reducing child obesity rates in Leeds

Exciting new research from Oxford University shows that Leeds is bucking the national trend of rising child obesity rates. This is particularly encouraging as we already know from other research that an obese 5-year old has only a 1 in 20 chance of returning to a healthy weight by age 11.

In Leeds, the new research shows that obesity in 5 year olds has declined significantly since 2009, while similar cities and England as a whole has shown no change. Most excitingly, the drop in obesity has been seen primarily among the most disadvantaged children in the city where rates have been highest. Programmes take place in Children’s Centres in more disadvantaged areas of the city and by working closely with the council HENRY has been able to provide our programmes for families in the locations where it will make the most difference.

Obesity has serious lifelong consequences for physical and emotional health. It affects children’s quality of life including lower self-esteem, increased bullying and isolation. Obese children overwhelmingly become obese adults where the consequences are both life-limiting and life-threatening, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. It can be harder to find and keep a job.

Kim Roberts CEO of HENRY said “Leeds adopted a citywide child obesity strategy in 2008 with HENRY training and family programmes at its core. Based on evidence, HENRY supports families with young children to adopt and maintain healthier lifestyles.  Practitioners working with young families were all trained to support families to provide a healthy start in life and programmes for parents and young children were delivered in community settings.”

Dr Ian Cameron, Director of Public Health at Leeds City Council, said: “This research is great evidence to use as we play our part in helping children and adults live longer, healthier lives. With national data showing one in ten children are obese by the time they start school and two thirds remaining obese when they leave primary school, we’re delighted to be making positive progress in Leeds.

The research, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, looked at national data collected through the National Child Measurement Programme between 2009 and 2017. It shows that Leeds is challenging national trends in two key areas - lower levels of obesity overall and particularly among the most deprived children in the city.

Obesity levels fell from 9.4% to 8.8% in Reception children, while levels remained unchanged in similar cities (9.8%-9.8%), and for England as a whole (9.5%-9.4%). The drop was primarily among the most deprived children in Leeds, with levels falling from 11.5%-10.5%. Affluent children benefited too. 9,675  children aged 4-5 were measured in Leeds in 2016/17, and the drop in obesity equates to over 600 fewer children being obese in the most recent school year for which statistics were available.

A parent who joined the HENRY programme in Leeds said: “I was thinking twice about getting involved, but I’m really pleased I did. HENRY encouraged me to be more positive and to have realistic expectations of what I can expect of my daughter’s diet. I found out how to set limits and have clear boundaries so I can manage her behaviour better. I don’t use food as a treat anymore and at snack time I guide her choices by offering two healthy snacks instead of just asking her what she wants. I’ve found we’re now getting on much better and really benefiting from eating a much healthier diet. In fact with her eating more healthily, so am I!”

Read the full published paper here