Leeds becomes first UK city to lower childhood obesity rate
01/05/2019 - 09:03
Leeds has become the first city in the UK to report a drop in childhood obesity after introducing a programme to help parents set boundaries for their children and say no to sweets and junk food, the Guardian has reported.

Only a few cities in the world, such as Amsterdam, have managed to cut child obesity. Like Amsterdam, the decline in Leeds is most marked among families living in the most deprived areas, where the problem is worst and hardest to tackle.

“The improvement in the most deprived children in Leeds is startling,” said Susan Jebb, a professor of diet and population health at Oxford University, whose team has analysed the city’s data. 

Over four years, obesity has dropped from 11.5% to 10.5% and the trajectory is steadily downwards. Among the more affluent families, there was also a decline from 6.8% to 6%. Overall the drop was from 9.4% to 8.8%.

The data comes from the national child measurement programme (NCMP), which requires all children to be weighed at the start and end of primary school. The biggest decline in obesity in Leeds is 6.4% in the reception class, at about the age of four. From 2016 to 2017, 625 fewer reception class children were obese.

No such data has been reported elsewhere in the UK. Almost a third (28%) of all children aged two to 15 in England are overweight or obese. The measurement programme shares the progress made in each city with those considered comparable.

 “For England it’s absolutely flat,” said Jebb, who added that the dropping rate in Leeds appeared to be a trend. “This is four years, not one rogue data point,” she said at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow where she presented the research, also published in the journal Paediatric Obesity.

Jebb, a former government adviser, said they cannot be sure what has turned the tide in Leeds – but it could involve a programme called Henry that the city introduced as the core of its obesity strategy in 2009, focusing particularly on the youngest children and poorest families.

Henry (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young) supports parents in setting boundaries for their children and taking a firm stance on issues from healthy eating to bedtimes.

The programme encourages authoritative rather than authoritarian parenting.

Instead of being asked what vegetable they want with dinner, children might be asked whether they would like carrots or broccoli. Instead of being told to go to bed, they are asked where they want to read their bedtime story.

Instead of telling a child to stop watching television, a parent could ask whether they would like to turn the television off or whether the parent should do it.

LACA chair, Michael Hales said:  “This report is very welcome news and one all our members I am sure will be delighted to hear. Whilst school meals encourage healthy eating and lifestyles we know that more needs to be done. This is the reason we have long called for pupils and their parents to be taught about nutrition and healthy living. We hope, that with Government support, other local authorities will follow Leeds actions and best practice to achieve similar results.”