An essential part of better public health is improving eating habits among the local population, at an early a stage as possible, in order to reduce instances in adults of diabetes, heart disease and other conditions associated with obesity, experts say.
Wiltshire CC director of public health Maggie Rae (pictured) says the council’s work with Danone Nutricia tackled healthy eating among young children, with an essential emphasis on educating parents.
The Healthy Eating for Young Children (Hey) programme, run in Trowbridge, provided parents of children aged one to three years with access to seven weekly, threehour sessions in which they learnt about cooking, food hygiene and shopping on a budget.
The teaching itself was provided by Danone staff, in partnership with the Community Health and Learning Foundation, which promotes health learning to people with low basic skills, and the charity 4Children, which recruited parents for and hosted the sessions.
Ms Rae says she initially had reservations about a private sector organisation providing this support, but was won over because Danone staff proposed to
deliver the training to local parents on a voluntary basis.
“I actually had to learn a lot about the company and I discovered that we had some common ground. It was quite clear that Danone was concerned about poor families being able to feed their children nutritiously. The predominant problem is that poor children are overweight in Wiltshire,” says Ms Rae.
Ms Rae says parents were often prevented from learning or experimenting with cooking by themselves by their low incomes. “The reason people weren’t feeding themselves or their children the right things was often because they couldn’t cook. Electricity is very expensive; often parents are using card-related
electricity. If you cook something that doesn’t turn out properly, that’s a problem,” says Ms Rae.
She adds that parents also often lack knowledge about the appropriate calorie intake for them and their children relative to their levels of exercise.
However, the project encouraged parents to learnessential cooking skills and about planning balanced, healthy meals in an environment where their mistakes would not cost them money and they could share their experiences and learning with peers.
“Wonderful things happen when people are cooking together and eat together,” says Ms Rae. “You pick up all sorts of things in the conversation. People also enjoy it: most of us love food and enjoy food and getting involved in anything that’s food related.”
So far, 172 families have taken part in the project, ensuring they know what they must do to ensure their children lead healthy lifestyles.
Overall, Ms Rae says the project was successful because it is a locally tailored solution, and one which adheres to Wiltshire CC’s overarching health aims: to reduce health inequality and to make communities more resilient. She believes these principles should drive public health activity more widely.
“These problems can’t be solved by the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Department of Health. We need health visitors, GPs, councillors and families to get together to solve these problems.
“In Wiltshire we want to reduce health inequalities and have resilient communities who can take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. If you get
the principles right and you know where the most needy people are, you can support them to improve their own wellbeing and that of their children.”
This feature is supported by Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition, an LGC & HSJ Integration Summit partner, as part of our integration series. For more information about next year’s summit, please contact Jenny.Vyas@emap.com .