Leeds made headlines this week as childhood obesity rates have dropped. Although the drop is by a seemingly insignificant 6.4%, this actually shows a fantastic level of progress. Most cities across the western world have had major problems with getting these figures to budge. In fact, Leeds is the first in the UK one of the first in Europe – another notable city being Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
The change has also been most notable in the most deprived areas of the city – traditionally, the areas which have been hardest to tackle obesity in.
First Steps to a Healthier Future
Currently, 28% (almost a third) of children between 2 and 15 are overweight or obese. This is a serious problem for most of the UK. With regards to obesity in general, we scored 6th most obese out of the countries that regularly supply measured data on the subject. This current drop in obesity rates – although only 6.4% of a drop – shows change. Also, getting into healthier habits as a child will have a profound effect on that person’s life in adulthood. The more positive change we can make for our children, the better chance we have reducing adult obesity rates, too.
An organisation known as HENRY has been cited as the reason for this drop, while other cities remain steady. HENRY (Health, Excercise, Nutrition for the Really Young) is a programme based on community education around health and fitness. They work with families to amend bad diet and exercise habits, while bringing people together to share best practice and behaviours to help encourage children to make healthy decisions for themselves. It’s less ‘eat your dinner if you want your dessert’ and more ‘would you prefer carrots or peas for dinner?’.
The idea is that you enable your kids to make healthy choices, rather than bribing them with treats so that they eat their greens. Part of the program also focuses on the parent’s behaviour – encouraging parents to eat with their children as much as possible and to eat healthier themselves. Children copy and learn directly from their parents, and it is often family habits that prevent healthy decisions being made. The program likes to focus on doing things together like eating, exercise or general social activities. It also shows parents the importance of setting routines and using non-food based rewards to encourage good behaviour. Sticking to a healthy routine helps give the children a sense of co-operation and less of a ‘mum’s making me do it’ attitude towards change.