How a pioneering healthy eating course is driving change in Leeds and could be the answer to the UK’s obesity crisis

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How a pioneering healthy eating course is driving change in Leeds and could be the answer to the UK's obesity crisis



THERE are chunks of cucumber and wedges of orange on a table for toddlers to pick at.
Mum Amy Rourke offers some to her 17-month-old son Anthony, but he is far more interested in the toys.
Glen Minikin For many parents, it’s a battle trying to get kids to eat fruit and veg and try new things
She says: “If there was banana, he’d have gone for that. He actually ate mushrooms the other day and tried some cucumber.”
Getting Anthony to eat any fruit or veg was always a battle — until Amy joined a pioneering course that could be the answer to the UK’s obesity crisis.
This week it was revealed that Leeds has bucked the national trend by being the only city to show a drop in the ­number of its four- and five-year-olds who are classed as medically obese.
Nationally almost one in ten reception-class pupils is obese, but in Leeds the ­proportion is down from 9.4 per cent to 8.8 per cent — the equivalent of 625 fewer children classed as obese.
Research also reveals the decline has mainly been among the city’s most disadvantaged children.
FIRM COMMITMENT
And the amazing achievement is likely to be down to Henry — a free eight-week course for families with ­toddlers, giving guidance on nutrition, portion size and getting more exercise.
Leeds City Council has made a firm commitment to Henry, introducing it ten years ago and making it a central part of its strategy.
Around 10,000 families have benefited from the courses run via children’s centres and health visitors.
At the Armley Moor children’s centre, on the outskirts of the city, a group of parents and toddlers have nothing but praise for Henry.
Single mum Amy, 20, who lives with her mum and stepdad in nearby Kirkstall, said: “Anthony’s diet did worry me because it’s a struggle to get him to eat fruit and veg. Unless he was really hungry, he would pick it up and throw it, and that’s stressful, so I would give up.
“Apparently, it can take around 17 times before a child will try something new, so now I keep trying.”
Glen Minikin That’s where Henry comes in – mum Amy Rourke says she’s learned that her son Anthony wants to eat what she does so now the both of them have much healthier diets
Glen Minikin Lisa Clifford says she’s dropped from a size 18 to a 12 since joining and can now successfully manage how much her daughter Rosemarie eats
Amy, an Oxfam volunteer, has benefitted too. She says: “Before the course, I did nothing but eat crisps and chocolate and I drank sugary drinks. Now I’ve stopped a lot of that because I’m aware that Anthony will want whatever I’ve got.”
Apparently, it can take around 17 times before a child will try something new, so now I keep trying.Amy Rourke
Lisa Clifford, from Gipton, joined up for her daughter Rosemarie, 21 months, but she has benefitted too, ­dropping three dress sizes.
The 31-year-old works part-time in sales but used to be in behaviour management, working with children in care. She says: “With my background, I didn’t know how much I would actually pick up, but it was definitely worth going to.SMALL CHANGES ADD UP
“I was making these meals that were full of goodness and then Rosemarie takes two mouthfuls and chucks it, and I was stressed about how much she needed to eat.
“On Henry I learned that I don’t need to worry so much. It’s about making small changes, and that can add up to a big change.
“And I’ve gone from a size 18 to a size 12 myself, so I’ve also benefited from thinking about portion sizes, because that’s something you just don’t know about.
“We were given packs including posters that you can put up at home, showing the right portion sizes, and that has really helped.”
Claire Covey, mum to Jack, six, and Henry, nearly two, has also felt the benefits. The single parent has lost 2st following the advice she gained from the course. She says: “It’s coming off bit by bit, chipping away at the weight.
“For me, it’s that downtime in the evening, when the kids go to bed and the fridge is calling.”
So Claire, 38, from Armley, has switched from shop-bought snacks to making her own healthier versions.
She says: “It was easy to buy the kids snacks, and I was buying a lot. You see so many kids walking round eating packets of sweets and their parents not having a Scooby-Doo. Now the kids get involved in cooking with me, so they’re learning, and it’s fun.
“Now, if my children are hungry, I give them fruit.”

Jackie Moores is a health improvement specialist and Henry co-ordinator at Leeds City Council. She says: “Obesity is a very complex thing but investing in the early years when habits are formed, and supporting parents to give them the skills to promote a healthy lifestyle, is definitely the answer.
“Like with many problems, once you’ve got it, it’s harder to tackle it. If you can ­prevent it, you’re a lot more likely to succeed.”
It all sounds like common sense, but these baby steps have led to one giant leap in the fight against obesity.
Glen Minikin For Claire Covey, the course has encouraged her to make her own healthy snacks and get her kids involved in cooking with her
Glen Minikin Leeds City Council has made a firm commitment to the Henry scheme since it was introduced ten years ago
Body coach, Joe Wicks’ top tips on parenting as a new dad and ideas on how to tackle childhood obesity

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