Early learning in developing toolkits to tackle childhood obesity

This note sets out key lessons on the development of toolkits to tackle childhood obesity drawn from the discussion at an online workshop hosted by the Bradford and Birmingham Trailblazers.


Introduction to the toolkits

Bradford

Born in Bradford Study, Bradford Council, and Bradford Council for Mosques have formed a unique partnership to explore the opportunities of working with Islamic Religious Settings, in particular with madrassas, to tackle childhood obesity in local areas within Bradford.

One of the ways in which the Bradford trailblazer are looking to do this is by co-producing a toolkit with Islamic religious settings. This toolkit combines scientific evidence and NHS and Public Health England guidelines on obesity prevention initiatives with Islamic teachings on obesity. The Trailblazer has trained people affiliated with these settings.

The method of co-production has been central to developing the contents of the toolkit. The Trailblazer has worked collaboratively with Islamic Religious Settings, health professionals and local communities to develop contents covering healthy diet, physical activity, and organisational change. Bradford will continue to work with partners and communities to test, develop and refine the toolkit contents further. Once the toolkit is complete, the trailblazer will train staff and volunteers in local settings so that they can embed the toolkit in their practice, delivering obesity prevention intervention to children and families.

Birmingham

The Birmingham City Council aims to make Birmingham a health-giving city. The Birmingham Healthy City Planning Toolkit is one of the primary ways in which they seek to achieve this. The main aim of this work is to create a city whose environment improves the health and wellbeing of the population and to reduce developments that contribute to negative impacts on health.

The toolkit contains fourteen indicators covering specific areas for consideration. The indicators include access to open space and nature, accessibility and active travel, and access to healthy food. The toolkit takes each indicator in turn, presenting issues for consideration in the form of questions that will help developers consider the health impacts of new developments.

The toolkit is designed to be a useful point of reference for planning applicants to use to ensure that the importance of health and wellbeing is understood when planning applications are being considered. It is also designed to be used by citizens to consider how a planning application will improve health in the local area and to show ways in which these applications can be improved to ensure a healthier community. The toolkit is currently out for public consultation.

The full list of indicators has been set out in the attached PowerPoint slide deck alongside the background to the toolkit and the Birmingham trailblazer.

More information about both the Bradford and Birmingham trailblazers can be found on the LGA Childhood Obesity Trailblazer website.

Learning from toolkit development

Toolkits relating to planning and development

  • The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (2019) does not explicitly state that health is a material consideration for planning. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the guidance within the NPPF relating to planning and health is maximised to best consider how local environments could affect childhood obesity.
  • Issues surrounding childhood obesity often cut across all the functions of the Local Authority, not just Public Health, this creates avenues for collaboration. A toolkit that involves different policy areas ensures that opportunities for co-production with council departments, businesses, and communities are almost endless. 
  • This toolkit has been effective in acting as a link between council public health and planning departments and developer and local communities. Regular testing of this toolkit with communities provided a way of feeding their views into discussions about healthy food environments within the council.

Toolkits relating to working with local institutions and groups:

Taking a whole-system approach to tackling childhood obesity is a complex concept and a challenging one for communities to grapple with, especially those who are not familiar with this topic area. However the co- production method in developing the toolkit has enabled communities to engage with the conversation, as well as helping to shape the development and delivery of a complex health intervention.  

Providing a role for communities through co-production of a toolkit can create a sense of ownership about childhood obesity within the community which is essential to tackling the issue. Furthermore, involvement of stakeholders and partners in the development of the toolkit can be both valuable for training and upskilling of staff and volunteers who will be key to delivering obesity prevention interventions.  

Top tips for the development and use of toolkits

Engage other departments at the earliest opportunity

  • Other departments such as environmental planning can often work in silos but there are still many shared goals with obesity work.
  • To build an effective toolkit, especially one that covers multiple policy areas, it is essential to ensure relevant departments are part of the decision-making process at every stage and their expertise is used at every opportunity.

Understanding the governance landscape behind the project and creating a project plan

  • Governance meetings provide key milestones for which to work towards which can help with project planning. Taking a toolkit to public consultation can take a long time and often involves multiple forums, board meetings, and cabinet meetings.
  • It is essential to understand from the start of the project when these potential deadlines would be so that the toolkit can be developed and taken to consultation in the most efficient time.
  • Understanding early on who would sign-off the project and when it will happen will ensure the project has ‘teeth’ in gaining buy-in and traction for a toolkit to move forward and sit where it would have the most impact.

Use the external expertise to inform the approach as it is being developed

  • External expertise will help to enable a smoother transition between planning and implementation of the toolkit, having someone will relevant knowledge provides efficiency in its development.
  • It is helpful to understand that you are not expected to be an expert in all areas. Lean on your experts to help inform different areas you are trying to cover in your work.

Be open-minded and flexible in your approach to accommodate how things evolve

  • For example, COVID restrictions meant that adapting to online and virtual work quickly was essential. Virtual workshops were ultimately very effective – they made community engagement easier in some cases and were more cost effective. However, caution must be taken in solely relying on this approach.

Integrate evidence into the approach

  • Having a research-based and research-led program alongside the test and learn approach can create traction behind the toolkit. Embedding scientific evidence and research on behaviour change for obesity prevention helped the communities understand the nature of the problem.
  • The scientific evidence can also be used to further inform other initiatives that may sit outside of a toolkit.

For further information about the Bradford Trailblazer please contact: Sufyan Dogra (Sufyan.Dogra@bthft.nhs.uk)

For further information about the Birmingham Trailblazer please contact: Sarah Pullen (sarah.pullen@birmingham.gov.uk)