The University of York is leading a national project to assess the value of a community-based intervention programme aimed at reducing obesity rates in preschool children.
One in five children, more commonly those living in more deprived areas of the UK, starts school overweight or with obesity and this figure continues to rise.
Childhood obesity can have severe implications on a child’s mental and physical health, including causing prediabetes and high blood pressure, which can continue into adulthood.
HENRY (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young) is an intervention programme delivered to parents of preschool children (aged 6 months to 5 years) across the UK, to help families be more healthy.
Around 24,500 families have attended HENRY since 2008, a programme delivered in children’s centres across the UK to parents and carers by staff who are trained on the HENRY approach and encouraged to provide a healthy environment during the training.
Early evidence suggests that it may be effective and obesity levels are lower in areas that deliver HENRY, but a more detailed evaluation is needed to understand how successful it is.
Led by the University of York, and funded by National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Public Health Research (PHR), the project will work with partners at the University of Sheffield and Bradford University to find out if children whose parents attend HENRY are less likely to become overweight or develop obesity than those that do not.
Data collected at intervals over a 12 month period will include height, weight, waist circumference, food intake, physical activity and quality of life to understand if HENRY has benefits to the wider community by improving the health of parents and carers that attend, and the staff that work in children’s centres.
Maria Bryant, Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the University of York, said: “This study provides an important opportunity to not only find out about whether the HENRY programme helps families and can prevent childhood obesity, but it will also enable us to understand the role that interventions like this play within the wider system.
“We know that excess weight gain is caused by a multitude of factors (like our environment, our biology, and our psychology) but we don’t know whether interventions that aim to impact some of these factors can make a difference.
“This study will begin by painting a picture to show what factors influence obesity in local areas, then go on to describe what happens when local governments deliver obesity prevention programmes like HENRY.”