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Training community practitioners to work more effectively with parents to prevent childhood obesity: the impact of HENRY upon Children’s Centres and their staff

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Background:  One in four children in England is overweight/obese upon starting school. HENRY (Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young) offers a novel, preventive approach to this problem by training practitioners to work more effectively with the parents of preschool children around obesity and lifestyle issues. The programme is being delivered to all Sure Start Children’s Centres (the UK government initiative providing family support and childcare in disadvantaged areas) in Leeds, UK.

Methods:  The evaluation covered the first 12 Centres to be trained (these had a reach of approximately 5000 families). A series of semi‐structured interviews were conducted with Centre managers, and ‘drop boxes’ were provided for all staff to leave their comments. Interviews took place up to 11 months post‐training, allowing a consideration of any long‐term impact.

Results:  Data from 12 interviews and 106 comment slips indicated that HENRY training was associated with considerable changes to the Centre environment. Immediate effects included changes to Centre policy and practice, including the provision of age‐appropriate portion sizes and the introduction of healthy snacks; a strengthening of team working and increased staff confidence around tackling lifestyle change; and enhanced skills when working with families. Training also induced changes within the staff’s personal lives (e.g. increased physical activity and family mealtimes).

Conclusions:  The findings suggest that positive and lasting lifestyle effects can be achieved by brief training courses involving Children’s Centre staff teams. Both staff and attendant families appear to benefit. The effect on levels of preschool obesity across the city once HENRY has extended to the remaining Centres is yet to be seen.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK 2: HENRY, Summertown Pavilion, Oxford, UK

Publication date: October 1, 2012

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