“Trailblazer” councils receive £1.5m to tackle obesity

Restaurants and takeaways that improve menus and incentivise healthier options will be offered free waste removal and subsidised advertising rates.

The trial, led by Blackburn with Darwen council, is one of a number of initiatives being funded and supported by the Department of Health and Social Care, the Local Government Association (LGA) and Public Health England (PHE) as part of the Trailblazer programme announced in last year’s Chapter 2 of the government’s childhood obesity plan.

Blackburn with Darwen wants to test its planning powers to restrict food retailers that don’t offer healthier options, as well as explore a range of levers to incentivise them to improve their offer. The project includes a “personal planning permissions” approach to regulate the opening of healthy new cafés, restaurants and hot food takeaways. All six district councils “will look towards permissions being granted for retailers able to demonstrate healthier menus as part of their application”, according to the programme’s website.

Local retailers will also be incentivised to deliver healthier food, with rewards including: free waste removal; procurement opportunities; subsidised advertising across council-owned estate; and opportunities to be part of a “health food hub”.

Blackburn with Darwen is one of five councils – the others being Bradford, Nottinghamshire, Lewisham and Birmingham – that have been awarded £100,000 a year over a three-year period to help them test and refine their ideas for addressing childhood obesity and health inequalities. The results could help shape national policy.

Public health minister Seema Kennedy said a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in public health: “These pilots are rightly rooted in the needs of the communities they serve and I look forward to seeing what benefits this grassroots approach has on our nation’s obesity problem.”

Some of the other initiatives taking place include:

  • Lewisham, in London, plans to test its powers to restrict high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) advertising and utilise unsold outdoor advertising space for health promoting advertisements. There are also plans to introduce a voluntary restriction across the borough through contracts with major advertising estate owners, Transport for London (TFL) estate HFSS restrictions cover 50% of advertising space in Lewisham, but this will increase to 80% of out of home advertising during the pilot.
  • Birmingham City Council will use the apprenticeship levy to offer health, food, nutrition and physical activity focused apprenticeships in deprived areas, where obesity rates are highest. The council will also create a local metric, the “Birmingham Basket”, to capture local consumer habits.
  • Bradford will partner with local mosques to support South Asian children – who are at a greater risk of obesity – by providing places and fun ways to exercise, alongside healthier food. Action groups will be established within participating faith settings to “explore how to mobilise and connect existing community assets to promote joined up local approaches to promote health”.
  • Nottinghamshire County Council wants Children’s Centres to become community food assets. Using the school catering services supply chain and other potential local food suppliers, they will offer low cost, healthier foods and recipes enabling families to develop their food skills and knowledge. The council will also expand the supply chain to childcare providers, which will “help familiarise families at pre-school age with the school meals offer to increase uptake of school meals”.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said innovative ways to address the inequality that currently exists when it comes to childhood obesity are “crucial”. Indeed, children from the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be obese and more than four times as likely to be severely obese than children from the least deprived areas.

The government published the second chapter of its childhood obesity plan in June 2018. The document set out its ambition to halve childhood obesity and significantly reduce the gap in obesity between children from the most and least deprived areas by 2030.

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