North Somerset has launched programs targeting issues such as diet, healthy weight and children’s oral health.
Various initiatives have been set up in North Somerset to support families with children under the age of five. In recent years the focus has been on improving breastfeeding rates, and this is now being built upon with the launch of new programs on topics such as nutrition, healthy weight and oral health.
Efforts to increase breastfeeding rates
A good start is one of the three core themes of North Somerset’s health and well-being strategy, along with a good life and a good ageing. “The early years are really crucial,” said Matt Lenny, director of North Somerset. “If a child is able to go to school healthy, there will be an established pattern of behavior in that family that is likely to persist throughout childhood. That is why we are so determined to do our best to support every family with young children during these formative years.”
One of the most successful initiatives since 2018 is the work on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was identified as a key concern, particularly in Weston-Super-Mare, the capital of North Somerset, which had lower breastfeeding rates than the rest of the region.
Some counties were breastfeeding half as many children as the rest of North Somerset. Four years ago, the Public Health Team conducted a review of what else needs to be done to support young mothers. It found that despite targeting deprived areas, breastfeeding support services were not well established and collaboration with local mothers was low.
This led to a number of new initiatives, including encouraging local businesses to sign up for a ‘Welcome to Breastfeeding’ program to promote the fact that breastfeeding is encouraged. More than 40 local businesses have signed up, including cafes, restaurants and shops.
Meanwhile, staff at day care centers and children’s centers have been trained to support breastfeeding, and a specialist breastfeeding clinic run by health visitors has been established at two children’s centers in neighborhoods with the lowest rates.
The council also invested in building a network of volunteer peer champions, trained by the public health team. More than 20 have been trained and regularly volunteer.
This led to the creation of three peer support groups, ‘on the go’ breastfeeding sessions in community cafes and venues and a very active Facebook group which proved particularly useful during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The impact has been significant, with breastfeeding rates in the target areas increasing from about a third to about a half after six to eight weeks.
Mom-of-two Karen said the volunteer support group she attended was invaluable. “The emotional support you build is just as valuable as the practical support. It’s definitely my safe space.”
How to build on success
Matt said the work on breastfeeding helped inform future work for the early years, which has become increasingly important amid the threat of rising health inequalities in the wake of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.
“What we really learned from doing this was the importance of working with the community. The peer volunteers made a big difference. Local governments are very good at developing service avenues and the civic side of things – creating the right environment to support the broader determinants – but we haven’t always been so good at empowering community. The breastfeeding program showed how important this is.”
A number of new initiatives are currently in the start-up phase. This includes a pilot program on food, nutrition and oral health with attitudes for the early years. Staff at nine nurseries receive training on nutrition from the Public Health Team, covering topics such as the Eatwell plate and different food groups, advice on how to make the food they serve children healthier, and small grants for resources or equipment .
Matt said: “We do this very strongly in partnership with early years facilities. You will have many ideas on how best to get children and their families involved. We plan to learn from the pilot before expanding it across North Somerset.”
Projects are also being carried out with workplaces – on physical activity and nutrition – and in schools, where school nurses run clinics for emotional health and well-being, as part of a broader push for health in all ages. The ChatHealth resource is now available in all secondary schools to increase access to online counseling for students.
In addition to the pilot project for early childhood attitudes, there are two other key projects. The first focuses on oral health and has resulted in the Public Health team creating a new role to focus on oral health. The practitioner will work with kindergartens, schools and children’s centers to set up initiatives such as tooth brushing programmes.
And the second project sees school nurses providing advanced brief interventions to help children and families develop and maintain a healthy weight, and health visitors, midwives and school nurses to be involved in communication around nutrition, physical activity and healthy weight for families in and after pregnancy be trained from birth and into childhood.
“We have also implemented a 12-week postnatal Weight Management ‘Health, Exercise and Diet’ program for women alongside our already established prenatal program who can benefit from tailored lifestyle support during this important period, alongside our general adult weight management services,” adds Matt added.
Matt Lenny, Director of Public Health, North Somerset Council: [email protected], 07920 543103