Bristol City Council's whole city approach to obesity

Bristol City Council’s whole city approach to childhood obesity is long-term, cross-council and all-encompassing. Ambitious targets, set as part of the One City vision, include a halt in the rise of childhood obesity by 2026. By 2050, the aim is that obesity will no longer be a contributor to early death and that children will leave school knowing how to prepare a meal from fresh produce that is available throughout the city.

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The challenge

About a third of children across the city are obese or overweight. Nearly 22 per cent of four to five year olds have excess weight, rising to 34 per cent for Year 6. Obesity is more prevalent in disadvantaged communities. For the Council, reducing inequalities is a main driver.

The approach

Last year a decision was made to decommission all weight management programmes, which, although helpful for some individuals had not achieved any change in the levels of obesity across the city. Alive Bristol – a one city approach to healthier people and places - has recently been launched and the Local Authority has signed a Healthy Weight Declaration which will ensure all areas of the Council are working towards the same ambition. The developing plan looks at the wider determinants of child obesity, the factors which affect our health such as planning, education, physical activity and sport, and food systems.

Encouraging healthy eating and improving the availability of healthier and sustainable food is at the heart of the approach, which is being spearheaded by public health and the council’s health and wellbeing board. Initiatives include:

  • Working with colleagues in food safety, the public health team has developed the Bristol Eating Better Awards, supporting changes to the food environment in a range of settings.
  • Food market traders committing to minimum standards on healthy food and better eating before they are granted a licence.
  • Working with partners to ensure public food and catering procurement is meeting the Government Buying Standards and commitments made in the Sustainable Food City Action plan. The Soil Association Food for Life award is helping businesses and organisations to demonstrate this compliance.
  • A redesign of the Healthy Schools Programme has developed awards at different levels. A basic award has clear criteria covering good food, physical activity and mental health.

A council website will signpost residents to services and facilities. It will include an interactive map which residents can use to direct them to fresh food or free leisure centre facilities, for instance.

Sally Hogg, Consultant in Public Health, said: “We were keen to ensure that schools have the opportunity to understand the importance of good food, physical activity and mental health on a child’s development, learning and long term health and wellbeing, this award supports them to do that.”

The impact

Successes to date have included supporting procurement of healthier and more sustainable food in schools, museums, parks, leisure centres and other local authority venues.

There are 184 food businesses in Bristol with a Bristol Eating Better Award. It has encouraged food businesses to provide readily available drinking water and to remove sugary, fizzy drinks from counters and shop fronts. One fish and chip shop is now providing grilled fish at lunch time because of the initiative.

Feeding Bristol worked with Fair Share South West, to enable 53,000 meals to be produced during the school holidays to combat holiday hunger, 5,000 individual children benefitted from the Healthy Holidays initiative. The partnership has established five weekly food clubs in deprived communities. For a low cost (£3.50 per week) referred members receive a top-up of their groceries of fresh meat, vegetables and fruit with a retail value equivalent of £15 to £20.

Lessons learned

Obesity is a complex problem with many causes, many of which are about the place in which we live. Individual weight management services are unable to create a change at population level and evidence shows that impact is greatest when changes are made to the environments where we live and work.

Significant change is only possible if people are involved at all levels across the city and committed to change: “Every one making a pledge to do something however small or large,” said Hogg. “We need to provide opportunity, capability and motivation to enable this to happen”.

How is the approach being sustained?

The One City vision, with its ambitious targets, has provided a “long term game plan” that has provided a backdrop and driver to tackle childhood obesity.

Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor (Communities, Equalities & Public Health), said:

Alive Bristol is our whole system approach to tackling obesity and is based on changing the environment we live in to make it easier for people to live healthier lives. We have clear commitments to tackling childhood obesity which are set out in our One City Plan to 2050 and I am confident that with the city behind us, we will close the obesity gap between the most and least deprived wards in our city.”


Sally Hogg, Consultant in Public Health at Bristol City Council

[email protected]