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[3 minute read]

Oxford Population Health researchers will engage Newham residents to co-create a tailored action plan to improve diets and health for local residents.

We all know that a healthy diet is essential for good health, yet many areas of the UK struggle with high burdens of diet-related diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Although there are various existing programmes and interventions designed to increase access to healthy diets, often these are nationally devised programmes that are not tailored to local contexts. Consequently, these can widen health inequalities if a particular intervention only works in certain groups and leaves others behind.

The London Borough of Newham, for instance, has high levels of type 2 diabetes and people living with overweight and obesity. Efforts to address this have had limited success so far, likely because these have not taken into account Newham’s distinct local context. Newham is ethnically diverse with 73% of its population coming from an ethnic minority background, and is also within the 20% most deprived areas of England.

To approach the problem differently, Newham Council has partnered with researchers from Oxford Population Health to co-create an action plan with Newham communities. The end goal of this is to appoint local food champions who will work on behalf of Newham residents to increase access to healthy diets, and reduce consumption of high fat, sugar and salt foods. To give them the best chance of success, the food champions’ activities will be developed with local residents to ensure they are culturally appropriate and addressing the issues that they feel are most relevant to them.

Oxford Population Health is supporting the project by coordinating a series of workshops and providing expertise in systems-mapping approaches to capture the full complexity of factors affecting diet and health. The workshops will involve residents from each of Newham’s eight community neighbourhoods besides local businesses, and will be supported by Newham’s community researchers to facilitate inclusive dialogues. Community researchers are local residents who are given training to support research that could benefit the community, and can help build trust between the participants and researchers.

During the workshops, the participants will be guided to draw systems maps of what they perceive as the causes and consequences of poor diets in Newham. These maps will then be used to help participants identify actionable areas that are likely to be most effective. Such actions could include lobbying to restrict new fast-food outlets from opening, installing more public drinking water fountains, providing community cooking classes, or supporting healthier school meals. The team expect to appoint the food champions by summer 2023.

Dr Jessica Renzella, who will be leading the workshops, said: ‘The key to co-creation is to listen to and be led by local communities, rather than presuming that we already know which strategies will work best. Engaging with Newham residents from the start will allow us to work out a ‘Theory of Change’ for how certain interventions may eventually affect diets and health in the local area.’

Dr Prachi Bhatnagar, principal investigator for the project added: ‘This project is a really exciting opportunity to engage all the stakeholders in Newham’s food system to develop interventions that are more likely to be successful and sustainable. Over time, we intend to embed this co-creation approach into all the intervention projects our group does going forward.’

Adeola Agbebiyi, Assistant Director of Public Health at London Borough of Newham, said: ‘Given our demographics with over 70% of the borough from Black, Asian or other minority backgrounds, most Newham residents are at higher risk of long-term conditions of the type caused by unhealthy diets and their impacts, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. As the majority population, it is only right that we work together using co-production to design the right landscape of supports and opportunities for better health, so we are very pleased to be involved with this project. While there are national campaigns, in most cases these are not effective or not seen as relevant or accessible for diverse and financially challenged populations like ours in Newham.’