25/11/14 – Food in Schools and the role of local authorities in child fitness and health

Speakers: Malcolm Clark, Lambeth Councillor, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign  and Councillor Alison Martin, Cabinet Member, Derby City Council

25th November 2014 – meeting notes

All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

Chair: Baroness Benjamin

Baroness Benjamin opened the meeting. Earl Howe is working to organise a meeting with Jane Ellison MP, Public Health Minister, and there continued to be good responses to the report; ‘Healthy Patterns for Healthy Families’.

A new Working Group had been established to consider the issue of food in schools, kindly sponsored by Quorn Ltd. As Chancellor of the University of Exeter, the Baroness informed the meeting that the academic department with responsibility for diabetes research would like to join the APPG.

Baroness Benjamin thanked Slimming World, the University of Northampton and Quorn Ltd. for sponsoring and encouraging the Working Group programme.

Helen Clark (Chair of the Working Groups) also thanked contributors and sponsors of ‘Healthy Patterns for Healthy Families’ and Danone Nutricia for kindly facilitating the production of the printed copy. She reminded the group that the deadline for member submissions to the report on The Early Years was 19 December.  The date of the inaugural meeting of the Food in Schools and the Teaching of Food Working Group would be 9th December 2014.

Baroness Benjamin introduced Malcolm Clark from the Food Flagship Borough of Lambeth.

Malcolm had agreed to speak in place of Rosie Boycott, the London Mayor’s Food Adviser and part of the GLA food team and member of the London Food Board, (a meeting point for Non-Governmental Organisations). The group produced the Schools Food Plan, with a remit of improving school food quality and increasing its uptake.

Lambeth is one of the two London Boroughs piloting best practice as a Food Flagship Borough supported financially by the Department of Education and the Mayor’s Fund. It is one of many food-themed projects , including the report Good Food for London (produced by campaigning group Sustain) which rates  London Boroughs  on criteria such as sustainability. There are a range of different interventions available to the pilot Boroughs; improving skills and knowledge and promoting food. Money for these schemes has also been provided by The Innocent Foundation and both Tesco and Sainsbury supermarkets have been involved. A valuation of the project will focus upon evidence-based interventions.

The process of selecting the pilot Boroughs was competitive.   Lambeth was chosen as the Inner London pilot Borough because of the high level of community activity concerning food. Good public health practice included the Lambeth Healthy Weight initiative;  a vibrant food culture and community-led infrastructure. Additionally the GLA was already financing the Healthy Schools London project run in the Borough.

Community food growing is prevalent in Lambeth and a pilot has been established to explore how the recipients of free school meals can also be assisted to eat healthily during the Easter and Summer school holidays.

The pilot also promotes food businesses in Lambeth and aims to increase the involvement of young people. In addition, Lambeth is keen to support positive and innovative intervention from  other London Boroughs.

Queries to date from other Boroughs include

  • What other initiatives can build upon the School Food Plan?
  • What is the effect of planning policy?
  • Could the use of environmental health powers be beneficial?
  • Is there  potential for work in public spaces controlled or managed by Local Authorities where children congregate ?
  • How can local food partnerships be fostered and supported?

Cllr Alison Martin

Derby City Council, has led the way in public health innovation. The Live Well service is ranked  in the top 20 out of 900 such programmes; working to combat the detrimental effects of inactivity. The programme works with 3,000 people in the city, dealing  with a range of health problems.

It has been successful because:

  • It is based upon an individual’s personal priorities.
  • It offers a year of support; the established length of time required to make  enduring change
  • The client is ready for change.
  • Advisors work with the whole family.
  • The support is tailored to particular individual needs
  • Support is offered in community venues, such as leisure centres, libraries and Sure Start  centres.

845 people completed the programme, achieving  long-term goals such as:

  • Increased physical activity (75%)
  • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption (85%)
  • Weight loss

Live Well has worked with children in schools. Research into Years 7 and 10 in the city’s schools examined the activity levels of these children. Only 40% of children were very active.

The outcome of a City Council consultation did not identify the need for further funded assistance, rather they devised the “Be Active” programme, focusing upon primary school children and promoting physical activity as part of everyday life, rather than a product of formal activity.

60% of children and young people on the programme achieved the guideline quota of physical activity. The project was supported by Leeds University research. Derby City Council hopes  that the project can be replicated across the UK.

The Live Well – Healthy schools programme emphasised the importance of the following:

  • Water in place of carbonated drinks
  • A good night’s sleep
  • The consumption of fresh  fruit and vegetables

There was also training for school teachers about how to discuss health concerns with parents. The process was to identify children with high BMI or overweight children and invite them to join the Master Cadet Club, a child weight management programme, which parents also attend. Of 200 children on the programme 88% reached the goal of achieving the recommended physical activity levels and or reduced their BMI score.

The programme will be further promoted , with more detailed research carried out by Derby University.

A foundation course for teachers will help families and the Live Well service is being further developed so that it can be sold to schools.

Questions and discussion

Why is Lambeth only focusing on summer and Easter holidays?

According to Malcolm Clark, research found that the summer and Easter holidays are problem periods, Christmas is not. Malcolm also explained that there is an issue on government funding for programmes for the transition between primary and secondary school.

Baroness Benjamin suggested that people need to be empowered to know what healthy patterns are, children and their parents need to have this knowledge that will help children in the holiday periods.

Food, cookery and nutrition is now to be taught in primary schools, but in secondary schools it is not “sexy” enough, it needs to be aimed at people who are academic as much as those who are not.

In relation to how to make subjects more attractive to young people the successful example of schools in Derby was given. Here secondary school girls were engaged in exercise. According to research, 70% of young females did not take part in physical  activity, additionally many also had a poor diet. Derby produced a programme (with funding from NIKE and the Premier League) Movement which targeted young women with activities such as NIKE street Dance, and introduced topics like health and beauty (for example, encouraging people to drink water to make their skin better). The programme produced a 19% increase in physical activity. In summary, things need to be done and packaged differently to make them accessible.

Malcom Clark recommended the Government report “Beyond the school gate” as a useful resource for this problem.

Which programme had the most success at involving parents?

Derby’s Live Well project was run through schools, but there was awareness-raising around the city, people were allowed to self-refer to the programme.  In addition staff at facilities such as children’s centres and other healthcare workers were trained to be able to identify and inform potential client families. The families could then self-refer (or could be referred by that health practitioner). An advantage of this approach was that the family could be hand-held through the process by a practitioner who they knew.

How do you tell people that they have a problem?

In the Derby example children were presented with a programme with superhero characters; The Master Cadet Club, where they could get involved in challenges which empowered the children who joined in. This method meant children (with weight problems) could avoid bullying and were keen to join the programme, sometimes it was the children who encouraged their parents to allow them to become involved.

Evidence drives practice, but all too often policy is led by opinion. Leeds Metropolitan University research found that there was no relationship between the proximity or density of fast food outlets and supermarkets and the health of some 30,000 children in the Leeds area.

There is a lot of talk about this issue, but not enough investment of money. Derby is the second biggest investor in improving physical activity at 12% of its budget; Lambeth invests 1%, whereas areas such as alcohol and drug treatment receive 30% of public health allocations. The evidence of public health funding does not match the talk.

Baroness Benjamin welcomed the comments and requested that the contributor (Professor Paul Gately) draft a number of parliamentary questions on the points raised, for her to put down for the Minister.

Was there a difference between boys and girls in the Derby programme?

The programme confirmed that the differences in uptake of physical activity started at an early age, so, yes; there was a difference between boys and girls.

Caroline Nokes MP welcomed the interest from companies such as Waitrose (on whose board Baroness Benjamin sits) but pointed out the need to engage with shops such as Lidl, Aldi and the demographics they serve.

The Baroness agreed, but did point out that retailers such as Waitrose could act as beacons on the high street and added that Caroline Nokes MP might be able to talk to Aldi about this work.

Are there problems with schools themselves buying into these programmes?

Schools which took part in the programme in Derby were encouraged to feel that it was their own project. The Head teachers were brought together and given the opportunity to take up the challenge and take on the programme and create change behaviour. Alongside the programme there was a 5 year attitudinal study, as results and SATS began to improve the programmes proved their worth.

Did any supermarkets get involved in the food initiatives in Lambeth?

Not yet, some offered their support (there were initial discussions with Tesco for example) but Lambeth is not ready yet to involve supermarkets, there needs to be a clear understanding of what is needed before reaching that stage. Although areas like Streatham have worked with the Tesco community engagement officer.

Having recently attended the Food Matters conference, one commentator was able to say that one of the problems in the family basket is impulse buys.

It was pointed out that many London boroughs have achieved the food for life catering mark.

How have schools been made the hub of engagement?

In the Derby example the PTA has been the key, educating the PTAs empowers them. They get involved in fruit and veg box schemes, local people’s committees run the schemes.

The experience from Lambeth has been that childrens centres are connected to some of the schools in the borough, which were useful links. Alexandra Rose vouchers (for cheaper fruit and vegetables) as well as connections with local food growing projects (both onsite and off-site with parents) have also played a role.

The meeting closed.