Leeds the first UK city to see a drop in childhood obesity

Caroline Allen
Contributor
The introduction of the Henry programme, aimed at increasing knowledge about healthy eating behaviours, has been a success. [Photo: Getty]

Leeds has become the first UK city to note a drop in childhood obesity.

The city partially credits the drop to its Henry programme. The free programme offers transformative courses and workshops to parents in a bid to set boundaries for their children.

Not many European cities have been able to curb obesity. Notably, Amsterdam has recently reported a 12 per cent drop in overweight and obese children.

The decline the city has seen is more prominent amongst families living in the most deprived areas of Leeds.

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Leeds introduced the Henry programme in 2009. It formed the cornerstone of its obesity strategy. Henry, which stands for health, exercise, nutrition for the really young, was aimed at the youngest children (0-5 years) and poorest families in Leeds.

The programme helps parents to set boundaries with their children. It promotes a tougher stance on everything from healthy eating to bedtime routines.

The eight-week programme has a 97% success rate with those families leading a healthier lifestyle by the end of the course.

Henry’s chief executive, Kim Roberts, called the findings “unprecedented”.

Speaking about the course, Roberts explained that there are two common approaches to parenting; authoritarian and permissive.

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“Authoritarian parenting is when children are told what to eat and what to do, such as being banned from leaving the table until they have eaten their sprouts.” 

She continues: “Permissive parenting is asking children what they want to do.”

The Henry programme opts for a secret third option, described as “authoritative”. This approach encourages parents to make it clear that they’re in charge, but urges them to still listen and respond to their children.

The obesity data has been gathered from national child measurement programme (NCMP). This programme requires all children to be weighed at the start and end of primary school.

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Almost a third of children (28%) aged two to 15 are overweight or obese in the UK.

Henry courses run all across the country, but no other drops in obesity have been reported anywhere else in the UK.

Susan Jebb, a professor of diet and population health at Oxford University, analysed the city’s data. “The improvement in the most deprived children in Leeds is startling.” She said. 

“Everybody is going around saying Amsterdam is doing something amazing. Well, actually, Leeds is too.”

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