Redesigning preventative services for childhood obesity

In 2015, South Norfolk District Council was part of the East of England Design in the Public Sector (DiPS) programme, delivered by Design Council in partnership with the Local Government Association. The team’s challenge focused on the redesign of preventative services for childhood obesity.

Design in the public sector

The Challenge

It is predicted that by 2050 in the UK, 50 per cent of adult women, 60 per cent of adult men and 25 per cent of children will be obese. This increases the risk of cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and other long-term health-related conditions and places strain on already stretched social and healthcare budgets.

Alongside physical health conditions, obesity reduces self-esteem, decreases the likelihood of individuals remaining in work and can lead to mental health issues. If this trend continues, Norfolk is set to see a 31 per cent rise in obesity by 2020. This will put increasing pressure on acute services and an increasing need for housing adaptations and carer provision.

South Norfolk recognised that the most effective route of action would be preventing childhood obesity at a local level. This would need a coordinated and whole-system approach, which would improve quality of life and wellbeing in addition to reducing pressure and costs.

In South Norfolk, one in five children are overweight when they start primary school, while one in four is overweight by the time they leave. The National Child Measurement Programme estimates that the number of children aged 5-15 years of age affected by excess weight in South Norfolk is 4,020.

Future lifestyles are determined by early-life experiences. Childhood obesity often translates in later life as adult obesity with children reflecting the physical activity of their parents. This highlights the need for an early intervention approach to prevent a life of obesity and long term health conditions of a rising number of children.

Childhood obesity is multifaceted and complex. The council knew a whole-system approach was needed, involving changes to the key factors: food choice, behaviour, physical activity and social environments. Knowing that a ‘wicked’ problem such as childhood obesity cannot be tackled by one organisation alone, the council brought together a multi-agency group from across South Norfolk’s public sector to develop a collaborative, coordinated and design-led approach to tackle it.

This multi-agency approach consists of a commitment from five partners: South Norfolk Council; Active Norfolk; South Norfolk CCG; Norfolk County Council; Public Health.

All of the partners have one overriding aim: to reduce and prevent obesity in the locality. The complexity of the obesity agenda itself, together with changes to funding arrangements, means it makes sense to work together in shaping a user-led approach.

The partnership will work to produce a cost effective, wide-reaching solution to effect change in obesity levels. In turn, it anticipates that collaboration on early help, intervention and prevention will over time reduce the burden on local public services and related economic cost.

Engagement and action

Following the workshops and support from the DiPs programme, all partners agreed that South Norfolk Council Community Connectors would gather customer insight to shape a programme delivered by the Community Sports Foundation for parents, which would aim to support a reduction in children measuring as overweight and/or obese at reception age.

The Connectors in Wymondham collected customer insight into the design process using Design Council principles learned on the DiPS programme. The Connectors used their existing links by speaking to parents at baby weigh-in clinics, school playgrounds and other community venues.

The findings allowed the Community Sports Foundation to amend their existing programme to reflect the responses. However, in the interim period between programme change and delivery, the contract they were working under changed its terms and conditions. Nevertheless, the learning developed from the DiPS programme has been shared across the agencies and increased the level of customer insight used to influence new sports initiatives.

Results – update November 2016

While using Community Sports Foundation to deliver the programme has been ruled out, it has been agreed to go ahead and deliver the programme through working collaboratively with Public Health. The findings still apply to Wymondham and this would act as a prototype with the methods of collecting customer insight rolled out across the district and beyond. The following results have so far been achieved:

  • 58 local residents responded to the survey that asked questions to shape the next healthy child programme
  • Topics have been chosen by the residents including a wider focus on topics that include the wider determinants of health.
  • Over the next 12 months, the council will measure progress against the following and take these actions in response: Parents/families increased awareness of benefits of healthy/active lifestyles and healthy food choices sustained and behaviour change and follow up evaluation 6/12 months
  • Reduced early mortality
  • Reduced obesity and type 2 diabetes
  • Evaluation of ‘fit4infant’ projects from children's parents – collected pre- and post-project
  • Share learning and roll out

South Norfolk logic model


Sam Cayford
Independent living team leader
South Norfolk Council