Manchester: Developing a bespoke weight management offer for south Asian women

The Manchester Healthy Weight Strategy identifies Black and Asian residents as being a cohort particularly at risk of obesity. So, after noticing low uptake of weight management support among South Asian women, Manchester City Council has helped to fund a programme specifically targeting them.

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Cultural reasons behind low uptake

Manchester City Council commissions a successful adult weight management service. It is delivered by Slimming World on Referral and offers those with a BMI of under 28, opportunity to attend a 12-week intervention. The group-based approach covers healthy lifestyles and nutrition, including issues such as portion control, changing habits and stress management.

Monitoring of the service began to show that uptake rates among South Asian women was particularly low - just 12.5 per cent of people attending the programmes were from this community.

Council Project Manager Louise McErlain said: “We started to ask why there were such low levels of uptake. We spoke to our neighbourhood health development coordinators and members of the community.

“It became clear there were cultural reasons why South Asian women did not feel comfortable attending particular venues where group sessions took place. There were very few coordinators from the South Asian community too.”

How Bollyfit provided the solution

During the review, the team were introduced to Bollyfit Active, a locally-run scheme where groups of South Asian women come together to exercise, form friendships and improve their mental wellbeing.

Bollyfit Active was initially established to support women who had experienced isolation during the pandemic and was proving very popular. It recognised that mixed-gender gyms or community weight management group venues were sometimes not accessible to this group.

Ms McErlain said: “We could see the women were really engaged with the project and we immediately felt it would help us reach out to this group in a way we had not been able to before.”

With the help of funding from the government’s enhanced tier two adult weight management grant, the population health team was able to commission Bollyfit to deliver a 12-week healthy lifestyle course for South Asian women in two areas of the city.

The courses were run in 2022 and each attracted 20 women who came together to learn more about how to improve their health, for example by improving hydration and smart food swaps. This was followed by a Bollyfit exercise class.

The courses were supported by nutrition students at the Manchester Metropolitan University who have delivered educational talks on various aspects of diet and nutrition and engage with the women to dispel diet myths, providing the students with invaluable real-life practical experience in the process.

Bollyfit organiser Shamime Jan said: “Tailoring the classes to this group of women is so important and we are seeing the results. Just little things like knowing what music to play whether the women are Punjabi, Sikh or Indian makes a difference. You need understanding of the cultural differences to engage people.”

‘Bollyfit has changed my approach’

Evaluation shows the programme has proven successful, supporting the women with improving food choices and becoming more physically active as well as continuing friendship groups outside of the classes. 

One woman who took part said: “Coming to Bollyfit has changed my approach to making the right choices of food and having a room full of positive energy has also helped me build my confidence and find myself again.” And another added: “Being healthy is now registered in my brain. This influenced a good change in my husband’s lifestyle also.”

The population health team has also supported Bollyfit in developing outcome and performance monitoring to enable further funding to be pursued. And despite the government’s adult weight management grant ending in March 2022, the council has identified additional funding to support this neighbourhood approach and create opportunities for targeted groups.

MCRActive! a not-for-profit organisation set up by the council to promote sport and physical activity across Manchester, has since commissioned Bollyfit to deliver the programme in other areas of the city supported by local charities.

“We are really keen to keep it going, it has also provided an impetus to look at doing more tailored approaches for other groups where there is low uptake,” added Ms McErlain.

Contact details

Louise McErlain, Project Manager Manchester Healthy Weight Strategy, Manchester City Council: [email protected]