Blog: The Healthy Weight Declaration in 2020

Blog: The Healthy Weight Declaration in 2020

To mark the re-launch of the Local Government Declaration on Healthy Weight (hereafter HWD), we hear from Food Active Programme Lead Alex Holt and Director of Research at Food Active, Robin Ireland to find out more about what’s changed – and why, plus considering how the HWD can be utilised in a post-Covid era.

In 2014, following requests from North West Directors of Public Health, the then Heart of Mersey was requested to develop a policy-based approach to local government action on healthy weight. After a process of consultation and co-development,  the HWD was launched by the new Food Active in 2015. Consisting of 14 core commitments adopted at senior council level which were designed to be bold and progressive but achievable and measurable, the HWD was first adopted by Blackpool Council in January 2016. Interest in the HWD started to gather with a couple more adoptees in 2016 and the same in 2017, then 2018 came and the momentum grew and continued to grow. By March 2020 there were 23 local authorities in the North West and now also in Yorkshire and Humber and the South West who had adopted the HWD, with the same number again (including in the North East) working hard within their councils to garner support and get the council-level commitment to taking a system-wide approach to promoting healthy weight.

Review, refresh, reset

Five years on from those first meetings and the early adoptees were looking to review their local commitments in line with new healthy weight strategies and policies. This seemed an ideal time to review the HWD to ensure it was still fit for purpose. A comprehensive review process took place in consultation with eight local authorities from across England. Whilst the HWD was still considered relevant there were a small number of recommendations based on new guidance, evidence, practice and policy. A refresh based on the discussions then took place and what we have is the new HWD – more commitments (16 rather than 14), links with the climate change and sustainability agenda, a focus on partnerships and ‘place-based’ approaches, recognition of the negative impact of weight stigma and how the HWD and Public Health England’s Whole Systems Approach to Obesity[i] can work alongside each other.

The HWD is now supported by an updated evidence base and support pack, a new audit tool, a wide range of departmental briefings, communications guidance and support, whilst existing resources including the partner pledge support pack and monitoring and evaluation framework remain current. Moving forward, we will also be co-developing a HWD pledge for schools and educational settings and continuing our work with NHS colleagues in the South West to launch an NHS Declaration too.

The Healthy Weight Declaration in a post-Covid era

It does not need us to tell public health teams that life for many over the last few months has been taken over by advice on social distancing, face coverings, contact tracing and local outbreak plans. However, as the country carefully (hopefully) returns to a life, albeit a much-changed one, post lockdown, it has been very clear that the Covid-19 epidemic has emphasised health inequalities[ii]. The Prime Minister’s personal experiences have led him to appreciate the links between obesity and coronavirus[iii]. It is critical that any calls now to tackle overweight and obesity focus on the environment rather than stigmatising and blaming the individual.

We have written elsewhere how supermarkets[iv] and fast food outlets[v] used the pandemic as an opportunity to promote some of their unhealthy products from energy dense ultra-processed foods to sugary and caffeinated drinks. This needs to be addressed at governmental level. However, there is action that can be taken at local authority level. The HWD has already enabled a systems-wide approach to be taken in reviewing a wide range of policies which may impact on healthy weight from planning and procurement, to transport and training.

The launch of our new HWD materials is designed to help those councils and partner organisations who have adopted the HWD, along with those who are planning to do so, to develop resources and capabilities at local level to create and promote a healthy, equitable environment for all

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