Health Visitors are helping to tackle child obesity

Across the UK there is increasing concern over the rise in obesity and poor nutrition for young children and the impact it has on their future years.

Health visitors’ work with families can help address the issue of obesity and poor nutrition through early intervention and therefore help prevent the impacts in later life.

Nottingham City has a high level of childhood obesity with levels above the national average. Additional factors, such as 39 per cent of children living in poverty and fewer than 50 per cent of mothers breastfeeding at six weeks, all add to the problem.

For many infants and toddlers in Nottingham, their diets include too many processed snack foods and not enough vegetables and fruit. Poor weaning practices, lack of cooking skills and iron deficiency in young children raise concerns across all early years workers about the future health of these children.

Nottingham CityCare’s First Foods Education programme is an evidence-based programme that shows how health visitors can bring together partners in early years and deliver a programme that builds confidence, knowledge and skills in parents by promoting healthy nutrition and giving their children the best start in life.

The programme started with providing specialist childhood nutrition training to both health visitors and other early years workers, allowing them to take on the task of supporting and educating parents.

With these professionals now confident in delivering and promoting key messages around nutrition and what contributes to obesity, they worked together to set up groups for parents to attend, based in baby-friendly venues to give more parents the opportunity to be involved.

These groups introduced good evidence-based weaning practices, food tasting and practical information, such as learning about how to manage choking, to new parents – all with the aim of supporting parents to increase the number of babies being given homemade, nutritious food and demystifying and reducing fear about the transition to solid food.

In addition to the support groups, CityCare’s Nutrition Team developed a range of parent friendly, interactive nutrition resources and evidence based nutrition guidelines. The materials include: Sugar, salt and fat kits; Eatwell and multicultural foods kits; Oral health posters; Eatwell Early Years and ‘Cook and Move’ Facilitator Packs; and a ‘First Foods for baby’ booklet.

Health visitors have all highlighted how effective the training and resources around weaning have been but the proof is in what parents involved have had to say:

“I feel more confident about weaning and trying new foods.”

“I enjoyed the class and it put several myths right.”

“Very informative. I learnt new things that I didn’t know before.”

“Was nice to get some ideas from other parents.”

  • We hope you will join us in supporting health visitors. You can join in the discussion on Twitter by using the hashtag #healthvisiting

Vicki Watson is a Specialist Public Health Dietician, with The Nutrition Team, Nottingham CityCare Partnership.

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  1. Victoria Feenie says:

    Hi Vicki, Thank you for a thoroughly interesting article. Health Visitors can absolutely play a crucial role in health and nutrition education, particularly to those who are vulnerable. I am a registered nutritionist and work for a company who is providing online education for nurses in obesity care. Poor nutrition, obesity and its’ consequences are so often ignored, and it is when nurses and health visitors are equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge that they can make a difference in their patients lives. I would be delighted to chat with you about perhaps adapting our short course (Living and Working with Obesity for Nurses) for Health Visitors. If that is something you would be interested in please do let me know. Kind regards, Victoria

    • Vicki Watson says:

      Hi Victoria,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree that we need to equip our health visitors with appropriate knowledge and skills but I think we also need to support them by providing tools for them to use in practice with parents around obesity prevention. We are currently working with Professor Sarah Redsell and her team on some research around this subject. I’d be happy to talk to you about any of this.
      Kind regards