Sharing the Learning: Sunderland’s journey to adopt the Healthy Weight Declaration

Sharing the Learning: Sunderland’s journey to adopt the Healthy Weight Declaration

Joanne Pollock works within Public Health & Joint Commissioning at Sunderland City Council. Based with the Starting Well team and working on the Healthy Weight agenda across the life course. In this blog Joanne shares Sunderland City Council’s journey to adopting the Local Authority Declaration on Healthy Weight, which they officially signed in February 2022.

Our journey to adopt the Local Authority Declaration on Healthy Weight started in Autumn 2019.  

A review of the Healthy Weight Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and a scoping exercise of the evidence base was undertaken September-December 2019 to inform the planning phase of the Healthy Weight Declaration.  

‘Working together to improve our health in Sunderland’ community engagement sessions facilitated by Public Health took place in the 5 localities throughout October 2019.  Residents discussed unhealthy lifestyles this included; ease of access to takeaways, incentivising healthy eating, cooking from scratch and introducing a tax on unhealthy foods. These engagement sessions demonstrate resident’s appetite for change around the healthy weight agenda in their City.  

Public Health held a ‘soft launch’ introduction to the Healthy Weight Declaration at the Sunderland Health Summit, November 2019. The opportunity was seized to host an information stand, speak to delegates about the declaration and to understand the enthusiasm in Sunderland to adopt the Healthy Weight Declaration. Over 40 people signed, showing their support for the adoption of the Healthy Weight Declaration. Those signing including elected members, officers in Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, officers in Sunderland City Council and officers in the Community & Voluntary Sector (VCS).

A Council Strategic Healthy Weight Steering Group has been established which feeds into the Health and Wellbeing Board. This group is chaired by Director of Public Health, the first meeting was held on December 2019.   

Public Health then hosted a Healthy Weight Declaration workshop on 5th March 2020, bringing together colleagues in the Council, partners and the VCS to introduce the Healthy Weight Declaration concept, mapping the then 14 commitments, discussing local commitments and starting momentum to form a ‘Healthy Weight Alliance’ for Sunderland. This was to be the start of a whole system approach to Healthy Weight in Sunderland, leading to the development of a Healthy Weight action plan which feeds up to the Healthy Weight Steering Group and ultimately back into Sunderland’s Health & Wellbeing Board.  

Some photos from the event in March 2020:  


Shortly after the workshop at the beginning of March 2020 the global Covid pandemic sent many of us to work at home and refocus priorities. It didn’t take long for the evidence to emerge that that people living with obesity are at a greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 complications. They are more likely to require hospitalisation and mortality rates are higher compared to those with a healthy weight. Obesity is associated with a number of underlying health conditions including diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, a weakened immune system and reduced lung function, all of which increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19 complications.  

At the end of 2020 the Healthy Weight Alliance regrouped and throughout 2021 they continued to evidence and working towards the 16 commitments within the Healthy Weight Declaration along with some bumps in the road provided by Covid.  In 2021 along with members of the Healthy Weight Steering Group and Food Active it was decided that Sunderland was in a position to formally sign up to the Healthy Weight Declaration. A date was set for early 2022 to complete this momentous action, which would later see Sunderland be the first Local Authority in the North East to adopt the Declaration, be the first in the Country since the outbreak of the global pandemic and the first to adopt via a virtual event.   

A virtual event was organised by a small planning team from members of the Healthy Weight Alliance and the event welcomed delegates from within the council and from partner organisation across Sunderland.  A programme of short, snappy items was produced with Cllr Kelly Chequer (Elected member & Portfolio Holder for Healthy City), Patrick Melia (Chief Executive Sunderland City Council) and Gerry Taylor (Executive Director Public Health & Integrated Commissioning) signing and demonstrating Sunderland commitment to its residents.  

A screen shot from the virtual event.  

Photograph of outside Sunderlands new City Hall.  

Now the hard work begins! 

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