Addressing Obesity in Stevenage, Hertfordshire: A Consultation with Young People
Hamlyn Williams, Charlotte
Public Health England have identified that almost a quarter of children are overweight when they start primary school, which increases to a third when they leave in year 6 aged 10-11 years. This has implications for young peoples’ physical and mental health and also later in adult life. The newly launched NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East of England is focusing on selected areas of health inequality and this includes neighbourhoods in Stevenage, Hertfordshire which have high rates of childhood obesity. In order to find out what young people think about these issues, Hertfordshire County Council and the University of Hertfordshire carried out a collaborative project in 2019. Hertfordshire County Council have adopted a Whole Systems approach to obesity and are keen to engage with young people in order to prioritise issues identified by them. The importance of ‘involving’ young people in shaping services has been widely documented. Two researchers met twice with 56 young people (from a range of schools) aged 16 years who were attending the National Citizen Service (NCS) scheme at a school in Stevenage in the summer holidays. A number of involvement activities were carried out during the sessions. The young people, with help from the researchers, facilitated their own informal discussion groups, using maps, flips charts, post-it notes and an anonymous suggestion box. The first session did not mention obesity but allowed open discussion about what it was like to live in Stevenage and the second session focussed more on the issue of ‘obesity and weight’. The young people were encouraged to find their own solutions and imagine if they “were in charge”. The four main themes that came from the sessions were; affordability, crime and anti-social behaviour, transport and places to go and eat. A number of solutions were suggested by the young people which included; healthy environment (e.g. cycle paths, street lights, regulation of shops), community approach (e.g. more affordable sports activities), schools (e.g. raise awareness, promote sport), focus on young people (e.g. activities for young people and healthy affordable eating outlets) and helping people maintain a healthy weight. The priorities identified by local young people and the wider issues they raised are important to take into consideration when shaping any intervention or public health initiative, especially when considering the wider determinants of health. Listening to the issues and solutions and using the language of young people is vital and young people should be included in co-designing any services that are aimed at them. Involving local young people who know an area and who can identify important issues is vital for any successful public health intervention.