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A plea from the minister: show us what works on childhood obesity

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Today I am delighted to be unveiling our new trailblazer programme, which will provide bespoke support for councils to develop and deliver innovative local solutions to child obesity in their area.

Where we live plays a huge role in how healthy we are. Whether that’s the availability of nutritious food on our high streets, access to green leafy spaces for our children to play in or even the quality of the air we breathe – our local environment matters.

No one knows this more than local authorities, of course, and with their intricate knowledge of the people they serve, councils are uniquely placed to improve the health of the people who live in their community.

With obesity in this country – and indeed worldwide – fast becoming an epidemic, this will become more important than ever. One in three children leave primary school overweight or obese; a problem which unjustly affects children living in the more deprived areas, who are more than twice as likely to be an unhealthy weight.

When we announced the second chapter of our childhood obesity plan this summer with the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030, we made it clear that getting this right is a priority for us. I know local authorities share this commitment – which is why I’m delighted to be launching this programme today.

I’ve been inspired by some of the ambitious local projects I’ve seen across England. Many areas – Essex and Braintree to namecheck just one example – are already taking a holistic approach with schools at their heart. They are getting children active through the Daily Mile and making connections with the local leisure centre, while taking steps to improve the local food available by partnering with local businesses and considering restrictions on fast food outlets near schools.

We want to see more of this – but while it’s clear that there are interventions that can and will make a difference, we are under no illusions that they are always easy to implement. While the programme aims to support local authorities to harness the full potential of their existing powers, we need a better understanding of the obstacles that come with implementing them in practice. That’s why this new programme is all about identifying barriers to change – finding out what works (and what doesn’t) and sharing learning across the country.

Partnering with the Local Government Association, we are launching a programme to support local action on child obesity, and in October we will call on councils to apply with their ambitions and ideas. In spring next year, five local authorities with the most innovative plans will be selected to lead this trailblazer journey over three years.

Successful councils will be given hands on support and expert advice to help transform ideas into deliverable projects in their local communities, as well as funding of up to £100,000 each year to support delivery.

Crucially this programme will benefit all councils. With the support of government and experts in the field, trailblazer authorities will test the limits of their powers and help develop solutions to challenges that are common for many areas – and we’ll be setting up regular events, and other platforms so that learning can be shared and discussed. We hope that these innovative proposals will go on to help guide future successes and reduce the disparities across the country.

Trailblazers will also help shape national policy – any learning from this programme will help us to further enable ambitious local action in future, whether that’s through introducing policies at a national level to relieve local burden, or introducing new local powers.

We know that central government can only do so much to tackle obesity. Councils are the experts on their local areas and no one is better placed to know how to tackle the unique challenges each community faces. We want to see innovation, ambition and a real passion to tackle the unjust inequalities and in return we want to work with local leaders to push the boundaries so that we can overcome these challenges together.

Councils: this your chance to find out what works and make it happen. By applying to become a trailblazer, you could be leading a project that will help transform not just the health of children and families in your own community, but those of the entire country.

The trailblazer programme will officially launch at the end of October.

Steve Brine, public health minister

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