Ambitious new pilots tackling obesity through schools & communities

18 July 2014

• Lambeth and Croydon each win c£600k to pioneer school-based & community projects to improve health and attainment 

• Five-year pilot – Lighter London - aims to tackle child obesity and diet related health issues 

• Major retailers Morrisons, Sainsbury’s & Tesco sign up to support Lighter London boroughs 


The Mayor of London Boris Johnson today announced two London boroughs will launch major programmes to tackle child obesity through better diets and food education.


In a UK first, the boroughs will make changes to the way food is served in schools, hospitals, and - working with major supermarkets and other retailers - on the high street.


The aim is to show that joined up thinking can improve health and academic attainment of pupils and also of adults in the local communities they serve.


10.8 per cent of London’s children are already dangerously obese when they start primary school and by age 11, one in five are obese. In London, child obesity levels are the highest in England.


 Poor diet is linked to further complications later in life, ranging from Type 2 diabetes to cancer whilst the cost to health budgets has been estimated at £5billion a year currently and is rising.


The winning boroughs - Croydon and Lambeth - have been selected following a commitment by the Mayor and the Department for Education to fund two pilot schemes using the findings of the School Food Plan written by Leon restaurant founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent.


The DfE has provided £600,000 matched by the Mayor with a further £200,000 contribution from the innocent foundation.


The ‘Lighter London’ programme will bring together a coalition of agencies working in partnership across a targeted area to tackle obesity issues in a coordinated way not seen before in the UK. This includes the Mayor’s office, the winning boroughs, the DfE, Defra, Public Health England and the Department of Health.


Major retailers Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have also already signed up to get involved with the aim to sign up more businesses and organisations.


Work will start from September with the boroughs set to implement or expand a range of projects based in schools and designed to engage whole communities.


The aim is to improve the quality of food available to schools and communities; increase understanding of how diet impacts on health; develop practical cookery skills; and foster a love of good food.


Projects being developed in the pilot areas by the boroughs include: Croydon - grants for community cooking and healthy eating projects; food growing on estates; food business start-up funds; cookery classes in the community; initiatives to reduce sugar intake by pupils. Lambeth - free school breakfasts; food growing projects linked to cooking lessons for children and parents; develop community food hubs in schools; launch fruit and veg voucher schemes in every borough children's centre; redistribute food set to go to waste to families in food poverty. 


The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: 'We want to prove the case that developing healthy food habits in schools can benefit not only pupils but also the wider communities that they serve. Croydon and Lambeth will put this to the test through a series of initiatives designed to improve health - helping to tackle the serious issues of obesity and poor diet - and boosting academic achievement. As our city grows, it's vital we equip our kids with the skills they need to not only get a job but to see them lead a happy and healthier life. We can also help trim the multi-billion pound burden on the taxpayer stemming from unhealthy eating and poor food related illness.’


Additional projects being proposed by the project team in the pilot areas include:

• Setting up holiday breakfast and lunch clubs in schools;

• Projects offering healthy cheap food to those most in need;

• Holding family cooking classes in supermarkets and community shops;

• Offering financial incentives for small food businesses to sell healthy food;

• Changing supermarket store layouts to make buying healthy food cheaper and easier;

• Making hospital food better through changes in local boroughs procurement practices;

• Holding food festivals and celebrations through the year;

• Using the Mayor’s existing takeaway toolkit initiative to encourage fast food outlets to become healthier;

• Offering more fruit and vegetables to young mothers through voucher schemes. 


Henry Dimbleby, co-author of the School Food Plan, said: ‘The ambition is to show that by making radical changes across all sections of society - albeit in a small area - we can make a big dent in the levels of obesity. We hope to create a proven model that can be rolled out not only across the UK, but across the world. We are going to bring in ideas and experts from around the world to help us trial approaches, making these two boroughs a focus for the global health community and proving that together we can tackle this problem. It will make people healthier, happier and remove a massive burden from the NHS.’ 

Rosie Boycott, Chair of London Food, said: 'London has the highest rates of obesity in England which is fuelling a shocking uplift in life-limiting conditions such as Type 2 diabetes whilst presenting huge challenges for our public services. This is a looming health crisis which threatens to lower the life span our children to below that of today's adults. Lighter London is a UK-first. It will bring together schools working at the heart of our communities with a raft of other organisations to tackle poor diet and in both children and adults.' The announcement was made today at Christ Church primary school in Brixton which has embedded food growing and cooking into its curriculum. The pilots were selected after a competitive process involving 20 boroughs. Evaluation will be undertaken by the Greater London Authority and external evaluators.

Notes to editors



Additional quotes 

Cllr Lib Peck, Lambeth Council leader, said: ‘I’m delighted that we have been successful in our bid to become the first inner city London food flagship borough. The money will be used to educate both children and adults about healthy eating and help fund a new push to improve people’s diets. ‘To achieve these goals new food growing plots will be developed at the borough’s schools and local food businesses will be supported as part of a push to get more people into healthy eating. Schools and community groups will both be playing a key role. ‘We will work closely with the GLA over the next two years on this project which will also be setting an example to the rest of London in how the community can come together and develop better appreciation of healthy and sustainable food.’ 

Croydon Council’s cabinet member for people and communities, Councillor Louisa Woodley, said: ‘Food matters – the public health of our society depends on it. As a flagship food borough, Croydon gets to play a leading role in improving London’s food system as a whole, by sharing the benefits learnt with other areas of the capital. ‘This initiative will provide the opportunity to use food to transform our environment, improve health, tackle obesity and reduce inequalities in Croydon. ‘It will support the commitments we already have in place to improve the health of Croydon residents, as a Heart Town, and through our healthy schools programme.’ 

Kate Franks, the innocent foundation manager, said: ‘The innocent foundation was set up by innocent drinks to help people all over the world who are hungry. We are delighted to be the first independent funder to support such an ambitious programme tackling the poor diet suffered by tens of thousands of children in London who regularly go hungry. A child in food poverty struggles to learn at school on an empty stomach, and is vulnerable to holiday hunger when free school meals can’t fill the gap. Our commitment of £200,000 will help children whose families don’t have the means to obtain healthy, nutritious food. We look forward to working with Croydon and Lambeth to help hungry children get the food they need to reach their full potential.’ 

Martyn Jones, Morrisons Group Corporate Services Director and Early Intervention Foundation Trustee, said: ‘Through our Let’s Grow programme we are delighted to be helping pupils across these two boroughs learn more about where fresh food comes from and how to prepare it properly. The programme, now entering its seventh year, has reached five million UK pupils so far. We relish this opportunity to make a difference to the health of those children who can benefit most.’ 

Sarah Warby, Marketing Director at Sainsbury’s, said: ‘Anything that helps children establish healthy eating habits has to be good. Tackling childhood obesity is a big focus for us and this year our Active Kids scheme is designed to really get children thinking about the food they eat, with practical teaching tools and inspiration that support the objectives of the School Food Plan in these two London boroughs and the rest of the UK.’ 

Andrew Yaxley, Tesco Managing Director for London and London Food Board member: ‘We are pleased to pledge our commitment to these efforts and applaud the Mayor's office for addressing the issue head-on. From removing sweets at checkouts to educating hundreds of thousands of school children on food through our Farm to Fork programme, we want to play our part in helping customers and their families lead healthier lives. We look forward to working closely with these two boroughs and the Mayor's team to make a real impact.’ 


• Obesity levels: Public Health England December 2013: National Child Measurement Programme 

• Cost to NHS: Scarborough P, Bhatnagar P, Wickramasinghe KK, Allender S, Foster C, Rayner M. The economic burden of ill health due to diet, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol and obesity in the UK: an update to 2006-07 NHS costs. J Public Health (Oxf). 2011;33(4):527-35.


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