Blackpool Council shares experience at Dutch Embassy Childhood Obesity Summit

by Beth Bradshaw | 31 January, 2019 11:51 am

An integrated approach on tackling childhood obesity at municipal level

“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example”. Karen den Hertog.

The authors have worked together on a systems approaches to tackling childhood obesity since 2014, in consultation on Food Active’s development of the Local Authority Declaration on Healthy Weight, and, subsequently, when Blackpool Council were the first to adopt the Declaration in January 2016. So, it was a pleasure to combine our experience in supporting the excellent event organised by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, held in London on 29th January. We were in attendance primarily to hear about the great work taking place in Amsterdam in addressing obesity, but there were other excellent presentations from Professor Hawkes, Dr Arif Rajpura (Director of Public Health, Blackpool Council), Dr Emma Frew (Reader in Health Economics, University of Birmingham) and Jon Siddall (Director of Funding, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity). The programme concluded with a Q & A session which attracted many questions and a full discussion.

There has been a steady decline in the number of overweight children in Amsterdam over the past years; but there remain 18% of children who are overweight or obese. Karen den Hertog, Programme Manager, of the Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme, focused on the collaborative approach taken by the city in addressing what we all know to be a complex societal issue. She described the importance of setting ambitious and challenging targets (“moonshot” thinking) and a focus on equity in an approach based on Whitehead and Dahlgren’s “rainbow” model in attempting to target all areas of a child’s life. “Everyone around the child contributes”. It is a comprehensive approach which builds on strong leadership and a collective dialogue with some of the poorer communities in Amsterdam.

Dr Rajpura, from the Blackpool Public Health team, said that senior leadership was key for Blackpool tackling obesity in the town.  Cllr Cain, Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board, provides that leadership within the local authority and is passionate about making a difference for Blackpool children.  The work of the Local Authority Declaration on healthy weight was developed in partnership with Food Active and a group of Public Health Directors across the North West, with 15 local authorities adopting it to date.  As well as the North West, 15 local authorities in Yorkshire and Humber are planning to adopt the declaration over the next 3 years,  whilst local authorities in the South West of England have also started  their journey to  adopting this approach.  Since 2016 Blackpool has undertaken a range of actions and interventions to tackle obesity.  The Give Up Loving Pop (GULP) campaign has been running in Primary, Secondary and Further Education establishments for a number of years, and this year saw the launch of the Early Years GULP campaign ‘Be Kind to Teeth’.

The success of the work in Blackpool is due to strong political leadership and Cllr Cain has been key to encouraging partnership working to make a difference in the town.  Partnerships are crucial in driving the agenda forward and supporting the work and taking action on obesity.  Whilst the focus has been about healthy weight, the work has created other opportunities to link with a range of agendas.   This includes the blue and green infrastructure strategy, oral health, and water quality/Love My Beach through the work of Refill, and shows how important it is to have health in all policies.  Blackpool has made good progress, but recognise further work needs to continue if the town wants to impact on obesity and reverse the trend.

Our conclusions from all the speakers? There is no magic bullet to solving obesity. It requires leadership, partnership and vision. Something we believe both Amsterdam and Blackpool share.

Robin Ireland, Food Active

Nicola Dennison, Blackpool Council Public Health

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