Obesity is the number one health issue of our time.
The figures are something we cannot ignore; almost two thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Of even greater concern is that one in 10 four-to-five year olds are obese and by the time they leave primary school, this doubles to nearly one in five.
Being overweight or obese is a danger to anyone’s health. It increases the risk of life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
We also have to recognise that current approaches are not making enough impact and we simply can’t afford the status quo when obesity costs the NHS and wider economy £27bn a year.
The responsibility is not just on individuals and families to consume fewer calories and be more active. There are a myriad of complex factors that cause obesity, including the environment we live, work and play in, which are steering us towards overconsumption and a sedentary lifestyle. It is hard not to be influenced by advertising and promotions for high-fat and high-sugar products and to resist the numerous opportunities to buy unhealthy food.
A potential solution is a whole systems approach that takes into account all aspects of everyday life.
This is why Public Health England, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health have entered into a partnership with Leeds Beckett University with a view to designing local whole systems approaches to assist in preventing and tackling obesity.
Leeds Beckett University will work with local authorities to explore how to make greater in-roads into tackling obesity by learning from local experiences and co-developing an approach that acts across the local system.
The three-year programme will put theory into practice by carrying out a comprehensive review of the evidence base and international practice on what works, then designing andpiloting the programme with up to four local authorities. It will result in a transferable roadmap for future adoption by local authorities across the country.
There is opportunity for local authorities to become involved and we are seeking up to four to take part in the programme and be at the forefront of generating and sharing new learning. PHE, the LGA, the ADPH and Leeds Beckett University will be sending a joint letter to all local authorities in due course inviting them to take part in this programme.
The reality could not be clearer; the obesity epidemic has become a minefield for our health. We hope that this approach will facilitate changes to the way organisations plan and deliver sustained action to help prevent obesity.
Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing, Public Health England