Guest Blog: Middlesbrough’s journey to adopting the Healthy Weight Declaration

Guest Blog: Middlesbrough’s journey to adopting the Healthy Weight Declaration

For our latest guest blog, we hear from Jo Bielby and Laura More, Health Improvement Specialists at Public Health South Tees, who share details about Middlesbrough Council’s journey to adopting the Local Authority Declaration on Healthy Weight, including the development of an interactive online e-learning module for council leaders and her key reflections from the process…

Increasing rates of obesity is one of the most significant issues both in the UK and locally. Healthy weight underpins the overall health and well-being of the population, with obesity resulting in reduced life expectancy and increased morbidity.

Our vision in Middlesbrough is to create sustainable and inclusive food and physical activity systems, building value of both healthy diets and physical activity as contributors to addressing health inequalities. We aim to develop a whole systems approach to creating environments for healthy food, utilising the Healthy Weight Declaration as our established framework.

The Healthy Weight Declaration journey started with the recruitment of our healthy weight political champion Philippa Storey in June 2023 who supported Public Health in taking the HWD through the democratic process which was signed off through the executive in July 2023.

A healthy weight steering group was then established to identify local priorities in relation to the HWD and plan the next steps towards adoption, including planning the launch. To support knowledge and understanding in relation to healthy weight in Middlesbrough an e-learning module was developed and rolled out to council leaders in advance of the HWD adoption event.

The Healthy Weight Declaration was adopted on the 20th February 2024 with a launch event that brought together directors and heads of service from across the council. The event lead by Philippa Storey introduced attendees to the key issues in relation to healthy weight in Middlesbrough and the concept of whole systems thinking to address obesity.

To bring the food environment to life attendees were given a case study based on the Middlesbrough population and asked to go for a walk into the town to choose a healthy lunch for their given person, taking into account the budget and lifestyle factors that would come into play when making those decisions. We also asked attendees to take notice of the environment around them including the types of food outlet available, food advertisements and facilities for active travel.

The second part of the event focused on mapping the whole system approach to obesity using the socio-ecological model to identify how each local authority department can contribute to the system and what action is needed at a local level to address obesity.  This gave leaders the opportunity to discuss the challenges they face in addressing healthy weight whilst managing conflicting priorities within their own departments.

The event was well attended and all heads of service have nominated healthy weight champions within their service areas to sit on a the emerging healthy weight alliance to support and drive action moving forward.

The next steps in our HWD journey will be to hold workshops based on the core themes of the HWD commitments; Commercial Determinants of Health, Health Promoting Infrastructure and Organisational Change and Culture Shift which will bring together healthy weight champions from across the directorates and key external partners to map current activity and prioritise action towards achieving the commitments.

The healthy weight alliance will provide the governance structure for the monitoring and evaluation of progress towards the HWD commitments. This will be monitored through a HWD action plan and shared at annual learning events where healthy weight champions can come together to showcase their work in relation to the commitments.

Our journey to adopt the HWD has provided some key learning that we will take forward as we implement the action plan:

  • A healthy weight champion who understands the healthy weight agenda, is committed to playing an active role in the progression of the healthy weight declaration and is willing to advocate and support local action is key to the success of adoption.
  • A healthy weight steering group is imperative to support the planning stages and should be established in the initial stages of an adoption journey.

Jo Bielby is the Advanced Public Health Practitioner for healthy weight and Laura More is a Health Improvement Specialist for adult healthy weight at Public Health South Tees, the joint public health structure for Middlesbrough Council and Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. The pair work closely together to deliver healthy weight outcomes for the Creating Healthy Environments programme and are leading on the adoption of the Healthy Weight Declaration across both local authorities.


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