Putting children’s healthy weight centre stage in 2021

Physical activity should be a part of every day life

Paul Lindley, our Chair of London’s Child Obesity Taskforce gives us his thoughts on what a year it’s been since we launched Every Child a Healthy Weight for the city, and three simple mindsets we can take to make action on obesity better.

Last autumn London’s Child Obesity Taskforce published Every Child a Healthy Weight: 10 Ambitions for the city’s children, containing 20 specific calls-to-action to the capital’s leaders.

Every Child a Healthy Weight raised the curtain on a city-wide stage for this influential cast of actors to take action. The aim was, together, this cast would start to unleash a transformation so that every child has every chance to grow up eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and being physically active wherever they live in the city.

In the months following publication we shared our script for effective actions with every leader that would listen; and listened equally to those that spoke with us.

We engaged leaders across government, business and civic society, helping put the healthy weight of our children centre stage. So many listened and shared the actions they were already taking at a local level and offered the opportunity for these to be brought to a bigger audience.

Councils, businesses, charities, schools, nurseries, communities and parents shared with us their thoughts on our proposals, and many began to take up the initial calls we’d targeted for 2020.

First was action from London’s borough councils, the Mayor, the Greater London Authority, Public Health England and the NHS through their joint London Vision for Health and Social Care — a commitment to make London the world’s healthiest global city. They put the spotlight on child obesity through a series of commitments and actions under the Chair-ship of Steve Whiteman, Director of Public Health in the London Borough of Greenwich, and a member of our Taskforce.

We also made Ambition 6 our headline act - a call to action to make free ‘London water’ available everywhere. We have started work with water charities, headteachers, borough council obesity leads, the Greater London Authority and advertising agencies to deliver the opportunity for every school in London to become a Water-only-school in 2021. We are also working on a joint campaign to raise awareness of the benefits and desirability for fresh, delicious water right across London, whilst opening up new ‘points of distribution’ for free, always available, drinking water.

Unfortunately, as we all know, 2020 has also given a starring role to Coronavirus. The virus has devastated lives across the city and disproportionally affected those families where child obesity also thrives.

The pandemic has taken the complete focus of our political, business and civic leaders, who are now working closely together to build our communities and environment back safer. This can be seen with the ambitious London Recovery Plan and its focus on making sure that by 2025 every Londoner lives in a healthy food neighbourhood. This type of focus is exactly the kind of leadership needed, not only to recover from the burden of COVID-19, but also other complex health inequalities like child obesity.

As we move to a post-COVID world, but not yet a post-obesogenic city, I have reflected on what practical actions everyone who wants to live in a healthier city can easily take.

I think there are three simple mindsets we can adopt to make effective action more likely:

It is possible: Child obesity is not inevitable. There is potential for change. We can redesign our city. We have adapted to the changes needed to address Coronavirus and we can therefore do the same for obesity.

It is probable: The possible becomes probable when people want to make change; when they care about the outcome; and when they can see the issue as ‘ours’ rather than for ‘others’ only. Our experience of Coronavirus has shown us that our city can’t thrive unless we all have a chance to thrive; and that our lives and the consequences of our actions are all connected and drive us to act in the interest of our community.

It is powerful: So many leaders acting for the health of everyone is a unique moment in time. But the power is not in the moment, it’s in the ongoing movement. A movement is powerful because of its followers, not its leaders. The power of political, business and community leaders to change the environment, allows us followers to take action together in large numbers. We have the power to demand healthier diets, water being available everywhere and access to safe, playful spaces for our children to be active. For example, although Marcus Rashford has led a movement to make free school meals in the holidays a probability, it is the power of the hundreds of thousands who have signed his petition and in the hundreds of councils, schools and businesses who have been inspired to follow and act, that makes the difference to actual children’s lives (and Government policy).

As Coronavirus starts to move backstage in 2021, we can take heart that the way public health has played out this year, means 2021 and beyond can be better because of it.

As such, I believe that child obesity will headline the political, societal and civic programme of the coming years, as the challenge to seriously tackle health inequalities takes centre stage in our collective, city wide psyche and culture.

The calls to action in Every Child a Healthy Weight still show that unleashing a transformation that supports London’s children’s health and weight is possible, probable and powerful. Together, let’s put it centre stage in 2021.

Written by:

Paul Lindley OBE, Chair of London’s Child Obesity Taskforce, Entrepreneur and children’s welfare campaigner

Paul Lindley OBE

We want every child in London to grow up in a community that supports their health and weight.