With health leaders across the country calling for an emergency childhood obesity taskforce, Birmingham City Council is expanding a pioneering initiative tackling the issues of obesity and physical inactivity in pre-school children.
Launched two years ago, the Startwell initiative is an obesity prevention programme to help early years settings, parents and health professionals create a healthier environment for our children and families.
The initiative, which has already worked with over 180 nurseries, children’s centres and other pre-school settings, is now set to be rolled out to 80 per cent of Birmingham’s 400 pre-school settings with a new and improved model that will help the city to achieve obesity targets approved by Full Council earlier this year as part of the Childhood Obesity Strategy.
News of the expansion comes as The Royal College of General Practitioners and 11 other organisations have called for better co-ordination of obesity treatment services so that all children can be encouraged to eat healthily from a young age.
Startwell does exactly that and Chair of Birmingham’s Childhood Obesity Steering Group, Dr Andrew Coward, said: “While the rate of obese children leaving Primary School stubbornly remains the same, we have seen a fall in the rate of children starting their school life with weight problems. Initiatives like the Startwell are starting to have an impact by encouraging parents and their children to develop good habits from early life.
“Childhood obesity is a crisis. One in four of our Year 6 children in Birmingham are clinically obese and that’s a terrifying statistic. But, amid calls for action nationally, we’re already fighting back in Birmingham and Startwell has an important role to play in helping the next generation of Brummies live long and healthy lives.”
Startwell is based around 7 key messages to support nurseries, parents and health professionals:
- Be a role model for your child
Children learn from copying the behaviours of those they see around them. As a parent, practitioner or adult who is in close contact with children it is important that the behaviours they see and copy are positive.
- 2 snacks max
Regular, healthy snacks really help kids grow and develop well. 2 snacks max is all about getting in to the habit of giving the kids a healthy mid morning and mid-afternoon snack.
- 180 minutes
Children of pre school age who are capable of walking should be active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours); this should be spread throughout the day.
- Me Sized Meals
Children’s tummies are smaller than grown ups so they don't need the same amount of food.
- Avoid Inactivity
Inactivity in under 5s is associated with excessive weight gain and lower cognitive development.
- 5 A Day
Make sure 'they' get a variety of at least 5 portions of fruit and veg every day full of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre that may help reduce the risk of illnesses later in life. Even young kids can eat their 5 a day.
- Physical activity aids learning
Giving children a variety of physical opportunities can impact on their ability to deal with situations and challenges they will meet in later life.
Why is this important?
- Preventing the next generation of adults becoming obese is an important priority for the economic and physical health of Birmingham.
- Forty per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds in Birmingham are overweight or obese. One in four of these children is clinically obese.
- The projected financial cost of obesity to our City will amount to £2.6 billion per year by 2050 – that is the equivalent of 13.5 new Libraries of Birmingham.
- Obesity impacts on the quality of people's lives in many ways, not only their physical health but also their wellbeing and economic productivity.
- Overweight and obese children have significant reductions in quality of life and suffer more teasing, bullying and social isolation. 85% of obese children become obese adults and are likely to reduce their life expectancy by 9 years.
- The growth in childhood obesity means that today's children are unlikely to live as long as their parents.
- Evidence suggests the need to intervene as early as possible to instil sustainable positive healthy lifestyles which include both physical activity and healthy eating. A programme like Startwell is supporting at a time in a child's development that is the most important; both in terms of physical development that would enable a more active lifestyle and in terms of ensuring a child receives the nutrition they need to grow and develop.
Earlier this year, Birmingham City Council approved a wide-ranging Childhood Obesity Strategy
Birmingham Health and Wellbeing Board, which brings together political and strategic leadership from Birmingham City Council, Clinical Commissioning Groups, the NHS, Healthwatch and the voluntary sector, have made a good start by making it a priority to reduce childhood overweight and obesity within 5 years. They have set ambitious targets to reduce the percentage of Birmingham children classified as overweight or obese in 4-5 year olds from 24.4% to 22.6% and 10-11 year olds from 40% to 33.9% by 2018.
Case study: Startwell classes at Bambams Pre-school in Sheldon
Initiatives like the Startwell programme are starting to have an impact by encouraging parents and their children to develop good habits from early life.
Bambams Pre-school in Sheldon delivers the Startwell Programme and every week the children work on a range of healthy eating tasks - including regular cookery lessons.
The audio files below give a clear indication of just how successful and popular this initiative is proving to be and hopefully these children and their parents will go on to develop far healthier relationships with food and nutrition.