By Ketan Sheth
Brent represents an exemplar of the incessant and thrilling renewal of London with the diverse and welcoming environment, which makes the borough an exciting place to live and, for children, a stimulating place to grow up. However, Brent is also disproportionally affected by some of the key public health concerns for our youngest residents. No London borough has higher childhood overweight and obesity rates, currently at 44% for children in Year 6. Just one out of five children meet the recommended minimum of one hour of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Urgent action to address this issue is required and that’s why I have set up a task group bringing together a whole raft of stakeholders to see how we can work together to tackle this urgent crisis in our community. A multidisciplinary childhood obesity task group includes experts and professionals from the Brent Council, Public Health, NHS, education and charity sectors as well as parent representatives – all committed to reducing the share of children with excess weight.
Through multiple evidence sessions, the current approach to childhood obesity in Brent is scrutinised and novel ways of tackling the problem designed. Bringing together such a wide range of experts is refreshing. There is an unequivocal acknowledgement that, for all too long, the various stakeholders have worked in isolation, where a comprehensive, holistic approach is required. Indeed, tackling childhood overweight and obesity is a joint responsibility.
However, the intended beneficiaries themselves are rarely directly involved in policymaking for their health and wellbeing. Hence, Lander Bosch, PhD student in health geography from the University of Cambridge, embarked upon the challenge to identify barriers to, and facilitators of, children’s physical activity in Brent’s built environment as part of his doctoral study. Rather than looking at the borough from an adult perspective, Brent children were able to have their say in the study. He joined a diverse group of 35 primary schoolchildren and their parents or carers, living in all parts of the borough, on their commute to or from school – traversing 60 miles across Brent. Along the way, elements of the environment the children liked or disliked were discussed and many creative interventions that could improve the neighbourhood for them were suggested. These included, for instance, a mobile reporting system for antisocial behaviour and ways to calm traffic around schools.
Having the opportunity to get to know Brent through the eyes of an engaged and welcoming group of primary schoolchildren is extraordinary, and results in strong advocacy for these young people. The insights from Lander’s research are fed directly into the discussions of the childhood obesity task group, to ensure the voices of Brent’s children are strongly represented in the novel policy framework aiming to increase levels of physical activity, while reducing childhood overweight and obesity.
The borough most certainly offers great possibilities for real measures that can improve the health of its youngest residents, and all stakeholders fully support their implementation.
Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of Brent Council’s Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee.
All views in this blog are those of the author and not INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.