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Britain’s weight battle: How Newcastle lost over 90,000 pounds in a year


By Léa Legraien
Reporter
15 May 2018

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Newcastle City Council saw an opportunity to tackle obesity and promote healthier lifestyle by setting a common goal for the whole city, which is losing 100,000 pounds in weight.

By working together, the city has lost 90,853 since January 2017.

Léa Legraien spoke to Newcastle City Council to find out more.

The problem

In 2016/17 almost 25% – 774 – of children aged between four and five were classified as overweight, including obese, which is significantly worse than the England average.

There is a similar picture in terms of obesity. The percentage of obesity started to rise in 2015/16 and 2016/17 to almost 12% – 372 – placing Newcastle above the England and North East averages.

During the same period, 38.4% – 1,036 – of children aged 10 were considered as overweight, including obese, alongside 23.6% – 637 – obese children. These figures also placed the city above the England average.

The rate of overweight adults aged 18 and over is steady – 63.2% – and just higher than the national average, which is 61.3%. The rate of obese adults is increasing and has overtaken the English average over the recent years.

The solution

In a city of contrasting demographics and areas of deprivation, generating whole city approaches to change is vital. Looking at the scale of the obesity crisis in the UK, it was clear that radical new approaches were needed to tackle it.

However, Newcastle was not selected because it was a ‘fat’ city, as it is in the middle for averages across the country, but because it was already looking at prevention initiatives as a successful way to tackle health inequalities and obesity.

The idea of Newcastle Can came from TV chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his team who were looking for new ways to help people lose weight and this approach fit well with the council’s ethos.

The key idea was to create a community-based weight loss programme that would encourage social change and be delivered across the city.

The main call to action, as well as a personal log for residents, is the Newcastle Can website. It also provides activity ideas, recipes and motivational messages from Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Driven by the health and wellbeing board, Newcastle takes the approach that creating an environment that promotes healthy and active lifestyle, will have a substantial positive effect on the health of the residents.

This includes policies to limit the number of fast food outlets on school routes and the recent launch of our Play Streets scheme and Cycling in the City initiative, which encourages active travel to work through more cycling lanes and paths across the city.

The city recently launched Good Food Plan, which is a food initiative that aims to create an inclusive food economy in the city, make healthy and sustainable food available to all residents and reduce the amount of food waste.

The results

Newcastle Can was a very unique project different to many other health initiatives run in the past. Through it, the city has lost 90,853 pounds so far.

The response from the population has been excellent, built around the strong community drive and a we-are-all-in-this-together approach, which has encouraged many of the signups.

Simply engaging with over 10,000 people in the city with messages around healthy eating and exercise has been a major achievement. One of the key successes was engaging with communities that had failed to engage with health and behavioural change campaigns in the past.

Engaging businesses, such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Your Homes Newcastle and NHS organisations, also played a key part in encouraging a successful population-wide response.

There is a very strong appetite from residents, away from Newcastle, to launch their own ‘Can’ initiative.

The challenges

Talking to people about sensitive issues, such as their weight, can be challenging and it can take time for people to engage with projects because of this.

One of the biggest challenges was building momentum around Newcastle Can and encouraging residents to sign up. The response was slow to begin with but allowed us to start having these conversations with people.

The approach developed over time to include large-scale outdoor advertising and engagement events and work with businesses through the Better Health at Work Awards. This multi-channel approach started to see a sharper uptake in signups and weight loss.

Another challenge was encouraging people to discuss weight loss and their own personal journeys. As seen in the Britain’s Fat Fight, even establishing a name that resonated with residents was difficult. Obesity, fat, weight loss and diet were all seen as negative words, which wouldn’t successfully engage residents.

The future

The plans are to continue to deliver Newcastle Can as part of the development of a whole system approach to tackle overweight and obesity. Newcastle City Council has commissioned the initiative intrinsic to its own healthy weight strategy.

The city aims to significantly increase the numbers of people signing up.

Newcastle Can has been hugely successful and has allowed Newcastle City Council and its partners to engage with communities that would not traditionally access behavioural change initiatives. It hopes to build on this energy in the future.

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