28 Jun 2023 Guest Blog: Sunderland’s Healthy Weight Declaration – Reflections from Year 1
In our latest blog, we hear from Jennifer Green, Public Health Project Support Officer at Sunderland City Council, to review the impact the Healthy Weight Declaration has had on the council since adopting last year…
In 2022 Sunderland became the first local authority in the North East to sign the ‘Healthy Weight Declaration’. The Declaration supports our aim to promote healthy weight for all, get everyone active every day, and make positive change in Sunderland.
One year on there has been fantastic work happening throughout the city. We have included highlights below:
Increased access to affordable and healthy food across Sunderland to support reduction of health inequalities in our communities (C3)
The council partnered with ‘The Bread and Butter Thing’ to open five food hubs across the city.
Support for Sunderland’s schools to explore food and nutrition (C5)
The new Food and Nutrition Charter Mark was introduced – as part of the Sunderland Healthy Schools Award – and five schools have since achieved the Bronze level.
Preventative provision for children and families (C3)
Over the last year, over 750 children and families engaged in Change 4 Life Sunderland programmes and sessions, as well as over 12,500 people participating in holiday sessions and community events.
A local commitment to active travel becoming the easier method of transport (C10)
Sunderland’s Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) was published, ensuring a long-term approach to developing local cycling and walking networks for residents.
Positive steps taken to promote healthier communities in Sunderland (C9)
In 2022, the council’s Core Strategy and Development Plan supported the refusal of four ‘Hot Food Takeaway’ planning applications.
Tailored help and support to make long term changes (C3)
Sunderland’s Tier 2 Weight Management Service launched, with 550 adults from across the city completing the 12-week programme and supported to make positive changes to their lifestyle.
Male, 37 – lost 6.6kg “I couldn’t have done this without the programme. I feel better than I have had in years.” Was sad when it ended, asking to continue to be part of the Facebook group.
How has the declaration benefitted the council?
The declaration has served as a beneficial tool to support public health in starting cross-department healthy weight conversations, as well as engaging partners across the city.
Our council’s Chief Executive Patrick Melia, Director of Public Health Gerry Taylor, and Portfolio Holder for Healthy City Cllr Kelly Chequer signed the declaration. This demonstrated a clear shared commitment to healthy weight at a council level.
Workshops, focus sessions and a declaration adoption event cemented Sunderland’s commitment to residents.
What have been some of the key challenges, and how have you overcome them?
Public opinion often places an emphasis on personal responsibility, believing that an individual’s choices or behaviours solely determine their weight.
However, research and evidence show that what surrounds us, shapes our health – from our jobs to our homes, to our education.
Declaration commitment three and accompanying Food Active resources have supported Sunderland to raise awareness of the prevalence of weight stigma and bias.
We have taken a proactive and enduring approach to ensuring the use of person-first language in all work related to this agenda. We also planned opportunities to communicate the impact of weight stigma and the need for prevention to council cohorts and city-wide health champions. This activity remains ongoing and is embedded in our approach to supporting residents to live full and healthy lives.
Advice on maintaining the momentum of the Declaration
- Set up a Healthy Weight Alliance and periodically review the membership to ensure that it is reflective of local assets.
- Seek agreement from healthy weight partners to determine ‘commitment areas of focus’ and set a timeline for review. You may already have evidence for some commitments, whereas others may need a more concentrated level of activity to drive progress.
- Ensure your healthy weight action plan aligns with the declaration commitments from point of inception.
- Celebrate and monitor progress against the declaration by working with healthy weight partners to share quarterly highlight reports.
Priorities going forward for Sunderland
Sunderland’s healthy weight action plan has been in place for nearly three years. We are currently collaborating with partners across the city – as part of a Healthy Weight Alliance – to refresh the strategic priorities for Sunderland.
We will review our three-year action plan to:
- drive progress in line with the declaration. For example, prioritising specific commitments via proposed strategic priorities.
- reinvigorate collaborative ways of working, which bridge organisations and departments, and tap into existing partnerships.
- ensure ‘lived experience’ is further understood to inform delivery going forward.
- strengthen recognition of the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence differences in health, and often drive an unhealthy weight.
- ensure a focus on the places or settings where people live, work and play, throughout the life course.
- support the development of Sunderland Food partnership, giving everyone a shared agenda of food to take forward across the city.
- agree shared objectives and smart actions.