Monthly Archives

July 2018

Designing a weight management course for children with learning difficulties

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There’s no such thing as a child with simple needs. But developing a learning difficulties-focussed weight management programme has shown us how complex the world can be for some of the most challenged children in our community…

More and more children with learning difficulties are obese. In 2016 the British Paediatric Neurology Association and British Academy of Childhood Disability measured 264 pupils attending a local Special Educational Needs (SEN) secondary school. They reported 40% of pupils with learning disability were overweight or obese, which is much higher than published reports for the general population of the same age at 33%. And SHINE have been partnering with Sheffield Mencap & Gateway on a new project to adapting our materials to deliver weight management programmes for this important specialist group.

With the support of Mencap Chief Exec Janet Sullivan and funding from Children in Need, we’ve trained four Mencap staff teachers here in Sheffield to deliver a new SHINE weight management programme, which includes an increased visual focus and more interactive exercises and games.

Textures, colours and aromas all play a massive part in eating for children with learning difficulties so understanding sensory eating has been really important for this. Through engagement and observations we’ve found out loads about how children with learning difficulties can be selective or fussy eaters, disliking ‘wet’ food like gravy, sauces and yoghurt and preferring ‘beige’ foods like potatoes, bread and pasta. Children with learning difficulties can have entrenched disordered eating patterns at mealtimes, further complicated by medical conditions such as Pica and Prader-Willi Syndrome.

We’ve also learnt a lot from parents, who’ve openly discussed how difficult it is to manage these behaviours and how tempting it can be to give in to demands for a ‘quiet life’. But with guidance and support from SHINE staff, our parents have made amazing changes – challenging demands, setting boundaries around family mealtimes and introducing new foods in a fun way. Following positive results, we’re about to progress to our September course with new learning and greater confidence in our ability to help families make changes. Well done to our first group – you did us proud!

SHINE told parliament about childhood obesity. What happened next?

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Why is the government decommissioning weight management services for children when obesity rates are increasing? Why are there still no tier three services for children? When will the government move beyond prevention to providing help and support for children who are overweight now? Who will fund this work?

Everyone wants to feel like they’re listened to. SHINE’s recent visit to London to share our thoughts with members of the UK Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee was a chance for us to get the ear of people with the power to change the direction of UK obesity policy.

The call to visit came about as a result of our recent petition to fund obesity services for UK children and young people and it’s just one step in a larger process. But when we went down we tried to provide the committee with useful answers to their questions, as well as asking a few of our own.

That committee included some big names, including Diana Johnson, who’s member of the UK Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee, Andrew Selous, who’s Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity and Shadow Health Minister, Sharon Hodgson.

We presented alongside MoreLife with support from Dr James Nobles and Professor Paul Gately from Leeds Beckett University and brought seven young people from SHINE along with us. Destiny – one of the young people on our maintenance programme – told the story of her battle with binge eating and powerfully highlighted the need for more complex interventions for young people in addition to promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

The committee’s report ‘Childhood Obesity: A time for action’ came out shortly after our visit (link) and as expected concentrates mainly on preventative action. Marketing, advertising and sugar tax all feature heavily. But our eye did go to a brief statement on page 33, which read, ‘The Government must ensure there are robust systems in place not only to identify children who are overweight or obese, but to ensure that these children are offered effective help. Addressing health inequalities must include providing help for those children who are already obese…’ Our hopes for meaningful change to policy were pinned on this sentence but the ‘Obesity Strategy :Chapter 2′, subsequently published in June 2018, didn’t pick up this thread. There was no mention of any guidelines for intervention pathways or strands of funding. This leaves us wondering how on earth they will achieve their target of reducing childhood obesity by half by 2030.

Huge thanks to Labour MP Paul Blomfield for helping us get SHINE’s voice – and those of Sheffield’s young people – heard and also to Ben Mackay for all his support.

Healthy Schools Research Project – July 2018 Update

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One in five children enter school overweight or obese, increasing to one in three when they leave school at Year 6. What’s going on?

Over the last three years we have been working with two schools in Sheffield to find out.

Our project involves measuring children every year to see if we can pick up any patterns with an aim of changing this upward trend. Children spend approximately a quarter of their life in school, so they’re are a great place to promote, encourage and build good health and wellbeing. Leeds Beckett University have been helping us to find out if this whole school approach is beneficial.

The two schools involved are from the same area; with one ‘working as usual’ and the second working together with SHINE to become healthier. Here are some of the things we’ve delivered together so far –

  1. Improved breakfast clubs by providing age related food portions and by reducing sugary cereals.
  2. Increased availability and range of healthy snacks.
  3. Encouraged teachers to avoid rewarding achievements with sweets and chocolate.
  4. Increased the level of physical activity through walking buses, running a mile a day, offering ‘stay and play’ sessions for children and their parents and teaching curriculum subjects through physical activity.

We’ve also trained up four SHINE Healthy Weight Leaders (teachers and classroom assistants) to have the appropriate knowledge and skills to talk with parents about the weight of children, and to do so in a sensitive and confident manner without judgement or stigma. Lastly, we’ve helped children who have experienced weight gain by offering family-based support.

The results so far suggest that the programme is working. In both schools, we’ve seen that rates of obesity have not increased. But in the school that is having additional support from SHINE, it looks like the programme is really helping to support the children in maintaining a healthy weight. We have noticed though that some children would benefit from additional support from SHINE, and this is what we will be looking to offer as we enter our third year.

Accepting additional support isn’t easy and we do face some initial resistance from parents. That’s normal though as children’s health and wellbeing is seen as a personal matter. Over the next year we’ll be focussing on building relationships so that our input will be viewed as helpful rather than intrusive