Untangling the childhood obesity problem in Southwark

Last year, Southwark PCT launched a Commission on Childhood Obesity to understand the extent of the problem locally, and to identify key principles for a borough-wide healthy weight strategy for children and young people.

In Southwark, more than 40% of children are overweight and obese when they leave primary school, compared to 33% nationally. Obesity can have a severe impact on people’s health, and significantly reduce their life chances. Direct costs to the NHS caused by obesity are now estimated to be £5.1 billion per year.

While obesity is directly caused by an unhealthy diet combined with a lack of physical activity, children's eating and exercising habits can be affected by numberous and sometimes complex factors, including their family's social affiliation and economic situation, the environment they live in, and their own sense of wellbeing and self-esteem. In short, childhood obesity is a multifaceted issue, which makes it difficult to tackle from a single angle.

The Commission on Childhood Obesity undertook a rigorous research and consultation exercise, gathering relevant data and diverse views from community members and field experts. The Innovation Unit supported them to move into a phase of analysis and synthesis, before the findings could be submitted to the Children and Young People's Commissioner.

We provided a structured process to distil those insights into core service, systen and policy recommendations. We facilitated a number of synthesis workshops bringing together a community of stakeholders to examine interrelated issues linked to childhood obesity and to define opportunities for collaborative action. Our input also included the design of analysis tools and visual renderings of the core findings.

As well as generating key strategic recommendations, the process incited a number of stakeholders to start implementing some of the tangible propositions that came out of the workshops. We are now supporting the development of a strategy for promoting the wellbeing of children and young people in Southwark, through communication, reporting and case making activitites that link to broader policy and organisational development.