We’re not great at blowing our own trumpets in the public sector, so I’m going to use this blog as an opportunity to blow others’ and tell you about some really brilliant work that is going on in Haringey, much of it led by my colleagues in public health.
Haringey is not unique in its battle with obesity, but the scale of the problem in our borough is quite daunting; obesity affects one in three children about to start secondary school, along with the majority of adults. And more worryingly, in some of the more deprived parts of our borough, one in two children are affected. As Simon Stevens said at our Haringey obesity conference last year, by not tackling obesity we are storing up a huge tidal wave of diabetes, heart disease and cancers. And the negative impact this will have on the NHS, and people’s quality of life, is enormous.
So what are we doing about it? No single agency, organisation or individual is going to be able to solve the obesity problem alone so our main focus in Haringey has been on galvanising a collective approach. We started with a really successful conference on obesity last year which was organised by public health – over 200 people attended from many different groups and organisations including the council, schools, the NHS, local hospitals, housing associations, contracted providers, the voluntary sector and local caterers.
After the conference, a Haringey Obesity Alliance was established to put the partnership working on a more formal footing. There are now 65 members and all have pledged to help in the drive to tackle obesity and make Haringey a place where a healthier choice is the easier choice.
Haringey is one of the first places in the country to set something like this up, and the Alliance has helped pave the way for several innovative projects. A good example is Homes for Haringey, the council’s housing management organisation, who have been taking down ‘no ball game’ signs – something we see in social housing estates all over the country. And it has been a really tricky thing to get agreement to do. Some residents feel the noise and potential for property damage mean children shouldn’t be allowed to play near their homes, but how do we create environments where children can run around and have fun and, most importantly, exercise? A balance needs to be struck and with a lot of work, we think we have got there in Haringey. We hope other boroughs will be able to use our experience to implement similar approaches.
Another brilliant thing that’s happened in Haringey is the opening of Chicken Town; a social enterprise supported by the council that produces healthy, affordable, fast food in Tottenham. Chicken Town serves up high-quality fried chicken with a fraction of the fat of its high street equivalents. What’s more, it’s sold at local high street prices, including £2 daytime “junior specials”. We have to make it easy for people to choose better options, and Chicken Town proves that it is possible to have quick and tasty chicken, cooked in a nutritious way, that doesn’t cost the earth. It also gives young people a space to go and hang out which they don’t always have access to in crowded inner city environments.
Tottenham Hotspur, our local football club, is another Alliance partner and has set up an exercise programme for obese and overweight children. And over 70 local takeaway outlets have signed up to the London-wide Healthy Catering Commitment and have committed to using healthier oils, reducing salt, using lighter mayonnaise and making salad the default option. Like lots of places, the council wants to reduce the huge number of takeaways we have, particularly in the more deprived areas of the borough. As part of our prevention pilot we are testing to see if changing the planning requirements to include health would allow us to do that more effectively than the rules allow at the moment. Having done some research locally, it turns out that evidence suggests children and young people won’t walk beyond 400 metres during school breaks to get fast food, so we are hoping to keep takeaways outside that 400 metre mark.
With the Olympics on at the moment, there is always a surge of people who want to participate afterwards, but how do we get those who find it too daunting to start? We’re part way through ‘a Haringey year of walking’; it’s free, everyone can do it and it doesn’t take long to get better!
So it’s a multi-layered approach; something that was echoed by Professor Harry Rutter who spoke at our obesity conference last year. He said there is no single ‘silver bullet’ which will reverse the rising trend of obesity. Rather these problems should be thought of as a large jigsaw puzzle in which many interventions, policies and actions are required from individuals and society across multiple sectors in order to complete the picture. And this is exactly the approach we are taking in Haringey.
So let’s blow our own trumpets a bit more and share good practice with each other. Haringey’s whole system approach to reducing obesity has already captured significant attention from the media, our community and other organisations and it’s really exciting to see that other London boroughs are following suit and looking at establishing partnerships, similar to Haringey’s Obesity Alliance, reviewing their no ball games signs and commissioning healthier fast food offers. We need more of this… because it’s only by sharing what works, trying lots of different approaches and working together that we are going to make real in roads into reducing obesity.