Childhood Obesity meets Building Back Better

Every day we are experiencing and learning more about the negative impacts of the pandemic on the lives of communities across the country and the repercussions this is having on the country’s economy. When setting out how to re-build the economy and get things back on track, a term we keep hearing from Ministers is Building Back Better – but what does this mean, and what should this involve?


To enable our communities to bounce back stronger than before, we must focus on healthier, greener and fairer policy and action. But what can this look like in practice? The experience of the LGA’s Childhood Obesity Trailblazers can help to answer this question.

Why healthier?

Public health campaigns have focussed on addressing health conditions such as obesity and diseases of the heart and lungs for many years. These conditions have a detrimental impact on life expectancy and quality of life, and health promotion campaigns have often focused on improving individual behaviours to reduce prevalence. The pandemic has highlighted that these issues continue to be significant public health issues within the population due to the link between their prevalence and rate of recovery from Covid-19. There is a continued need for further action to address these health issues. Building back better must include building back healthier.

Why greener?

Addressing the impact of the pandemic is an immediate priority for government. But the country also needs to address a different crisis that has been ongoing for decades. A crisis which is becoming more severe every year and increasingly threatens the health of the entire planet - the climate crisis. The detrimental impact of human behaviour on our planet not only has implications for sustainability of resources, biodiversity, and the health of the environment, it also has significant impacts on the health of the human population. This link has become ever more apparent during the pandemic. Building back better must include building back greener.

Why Fairer?

Cross-cutting both of these issues has been the issue of the country’s inequalities. This issue has been discussed at large in the years prior to the pandemic. However, the pandemic has highlighted further the significance of the issue. Not only were inequalities present before, they have become even starker in the face of Covid-19 because those worse off in health, income and other socioeconomic areas have suffered the most. Building back better must include building back fairer.

What does this look like in practice?

A healthier, greener, fairer country cannot be achieved by focusing on individual action alone – it requires the mobilisation of systems. This approach is highly complex, but it is possible and the action it delivers can be powerful. The Childhood Obesity Trailblazer Programme (COTP) is a live example of how a system-wide approach can be developed and delivered in practice. The trailblazer programme is an opportunity for councils to help create environments and places that promote healthier lives while working with local partners to target the most vulnerable and address health inequalities.

Already, five areas across the country are demonstrating the power of mobilising local partners and working collaboratively as a system.  Birmingham City Council, Bradford Council, Lewisham Council, Nottinghamshire County Council and Pennine Lancashire Consortium of Local Authorities are developing a whole systems approach with their local partners to address childhood obesity through COTP. This programme is being managed by the Local Government Association, with expert support from Public Health England and funded by the Department for Health and Social Care. Between them the five trailblazers demonstrate what building back healthier, greener and fairer means in practice.

Evidence has shown that prevalence in rates of childhood obesity are directly related to inequalities within the population, for example high rates of childhood obesity are often found in the most deprived areas of the country. Child obesity is a complex health issue with clear links to the wider individual, social, environmental and systemic factors which determine the health of the population. In mobilising the system and taking action to address childhood obesity, the five trailblazers are already making progress towards a healthier, greener and fairer locality for their communities.

The five areas are focusing on specific ‘levers’ that both play a role in childhood obesity and that are within the power of their system to influence: These include:

  • The levers within planning and development in creating healthy places: Birmingham and Pennine Lancashire have been developing practical guidance and processes for developers and planners to help support the creation of healthier food environments and systems; improving access to healthier food for all communities within their places. In addition, Birmingham is developing the ‘Birmingham Basket’; a tool to provide on-going city-wide intelligence on food purchasing behaviours in the city which will help Birmingham to track food choices and understand the impact of encouraging healthy eating.
  • The levers within education and training provision: Birmingham has been exploring how skills and education pipelines can be better utilised to improve health and shape a healthier food system, focussing on the integration of public health modules into the curriculum.
  • The role of strong system leadership: Pennine Lancashire have been developing system leadership of the healthy food environment agenda by developing health and wellbeing training modules for elected members across the geography and across portfolios. This arms elected members across the area with the knowledge and skills to influence the healthy weight agenda within their localities.
  • The role Islamic religious settings can play in influencing healthy lifestyles: Bradford have been developing toolkits and curriculum materials with place-based groups to develop the role of local Islamic Religious settings in promoting healthier living amongst local communities. A large proportion of Bradford’s young residents engage with IRSs regularly after school. IRSs were therefore identified as key influences in improving healthy and active living amongst Bradford’s communities.
  • The role of out of home advertising: The London Borough of Lewisham have been restricting the amount of high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) advertising messages in out of home (OOH) advertisements and have been looking to increase advertisements of healthier eating messages co-produced with the community.
  • The levers within the Early Years Food Environment Years food environment
  • Nottinghamshire have been working with Children’s Centres, early years settings and a range of local partners to increase the availability of affordable healthy food, healthy start vouchers, and healthy eating information and advice to the most deprived areas of the county.

Much of the action against each of these levers is also contributing to local economic recovery plans. This shows that action to tackle childhood obesity has a major contribution to make to building back better; that is, a healthier, greener and fairer country for all.

More information about each of the Trailblazer programmes can be found on the LGA Childhood Obesity Trailblazer Programme website. The contact details for the leads of each programme can also be found below:

Birmingham – Lead: Kyle Scott (Kyle.Stott@birmingham.gov.uk)
Bradford – Lead: Nicola Knowles  (Nicola Knowles Nicola.Knowles@bradford.gov.uk)
Lewisham – Lead: Gwenda Scott (gwenda.scott@lewisham.gov.uk)
Nottinghamshire – Lead: Stephanie Morrissey (stephanie.morrissey@nottscc.gov.uk)
Pennine Lancashire Consortium – Lead: Beth Wolfenden (beth.wolfenden@blackburn.gov.uk)