A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Henry's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Henry is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Kim Roberts, Chief Executive
Getting babies and young
children off to a healthy start
With nearly a quarter of five-year olds starting school
overweight or obese, the need for effective and
integrated action has never been greater. Since its
foundation in 2010, national charity HENRY has developed
an innovative and highly effective approach to tackling rising
rates of childhood obesity. Chief Executive Kim Roberts tells
TheParliamentary Review
why it is so important to address
obesity in childhood now and explains how policymakers can
learn from HENRY’s approach.
Rising rates of childhood obesity in the UK are alarming. The associated risks of
cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes mean that the life expectancy of today’s
children may well be shorter than that of their parents. Obesity-related bullying,
social discrimination and low self-esteem can emotionally scar children for life –
some obese children even rate their quality of life with scores as low as those of
young cancer patients. The strong association between poverty and obesity means
that rates of obesity are more than twice as high in deprived areas than in more
affluent communities, reinforcing health inequalities.
The early years: a crucial window of opportunity
This is the bad news. The good news is that it is easier to prevent or reverse
obesity early in life, when children are forming eating and activity habits and food
preferences, and parents are most receptive to help and support. As these attitudes
and habits are shaped by the home environment, equipping parents with the skills,
knowledge and confidence to provide a healthy family lifestyle and nurturing home
environment has to be the goal of effective intervention to tackle child obesity.
»Chief Executive: Kim Roberts
»Founded in 2010
»Based in Oxfordshire
»No. of staff: 55, with 90
additional volunteers
»HENRY works in more than 30
local authorities
»Leading national provider of
evidence-based services to
support a healthy start in life
Highlighting best practice
34 | HENRY
»Over 14,000 parents have taken part in HENRY programmes to
transform family life for the better
»HENRY training has equipped over 13,000 health and early years
practitioners with the skills and confidence to provide effective
support to families
»Independent academic studies show that families make and sustain
positive changes in their parenting, emotional wellbeing, food
consumption and eating and activity habits
The results have been life-
changing for us all – as a family
we are much healthier and fitter.
This has been a total lifestyle
change and we will be forever
grateful to HENRY for helping us
take the steps we needed to get
where we are today.”
– Parent from Redcar and
Cleveland after eight-week
HENRY programme
Doing things with families,
not to them
The key, however, is in the quality of
support available to parents at this
crucial time. Those of us involved
in public health are all too aware
that simply providing nutritional and
activity guidance is unlikely to result
in meaningful behaviour change –
especially for families dealing with the
kinds of multiple challenges associated
with socio-economic deprivation.
At HENRY we take a different
approach, getting alongside families
and working with parents to build
their confidence and motivation
to make positive changes – which
experience tells us is the starting
point for change. None of us tends
to respond well to being told what
to do, particularly when it relates to
how we live and how we bring up our
children. Regardless of the quality of
advice, it is unlikely to be as effective
as working in genuine partnership
with parents and using our expertise
to help them identify the need for
One HENRY practitioner remarked,
“Before the HENRY training, when
I met a family about whom I had
concerns in relation to weight and
lifestyle habits, I didn’t feel confident
to handle the conversation and I
tended to ask them if they knew about
their child’s nutritional needs and then
direct them to a load of nutritional
information. I knew it wasn’t
particularly effective as I would see the
same families coming back with their
next child a couple of years later and it
was obvious they didn’t have a healthy
family lifestyle. The HENRY training
was a revelation. It gave me the
insights, skills and confidence I needed
to help me have a conversation with
parents that actually works.”
Empathy before education
At HENRY we use empathic and
strength-based support to create the
conditions in which change is possible.
When parents sense they have been
heard and understood, they are more
able to reflect on the kind of changes
that will benefit their children. Focusing
on a family’s strengths and what’s
already going well, before helping
parents plan small, achievable steps
that will work for their family, is crucial
in making these changes a reality.
Establishing a
lifestyle right
from the start
is much more
effective than
trying to
change habits
Long-term academic partnerships have enabled us to develop the strongest
evidence base of any national healthy early years programme in the UK.
Papers published in peer-reviewed journals show that:
»Families completing the programme make sustained and statistically
significant improvements in their family lifestyle, including parenting
efficacy, family eating and activity habits (including reduced screen
time for young children), family functioning and wellbeing and food
consumption (increased consumption of fruit, vegetables and water and
decreased consumption of foods high in sugar and fat and sugary drinks)
»Our training has a lasting impact on practitioner skill and confidence
»Our training leads to healthier nutrition and improved practice in
childcare settings
Building parenting skills and
confidence as the foundation
of a healthy family lifestyle
Programme content incorporates
messages from research about the risk
and protective factors associated with
childhood obesity:
»emotional wellbeing
»family eating and activity habits
»activity and sleep
Parents’ ability to set and hold
boundaries is crucial for a healthy
family lifestyle, affecting what, when
and how children eat, how active they
are, how much time they spend in
front of screens and much more. We
help parents to develop effective skills
and strategies to engage the whole
family in healthier eating and activity
habits – as well as providing the quality
of relationships that children need in
order to flourish.
Contributing to a reduction in
rates of childhood obesity
HENRY practitioner training and family
support has been embedded in Leeds
as part of its city-wide child healthy
weight strategy for the last eight years.
In that time obesity rates at age five
have fallen significantly (9.4 per cent to
8.8 per cent), while cities with similar
sociodemographic characteristics
as Leeds, and rates for England as
a whole, have remained high. This
reduction was primarily in children
in the most deprived areas of Leeds,
where HENRY family programmes are
delivered in children’s centres. As a
result, one in 16 fewer five-year olds
in the city are now obese, meaning
that 625 children a year are protected
from the emotional and physical
consequences of obesity.
Lessons for policy
The causes of child obesity are complex
and require a whole-system approach.
Alongside actions to address the
obesogenic environment, such as the
curbs on promotion of foods high in
fat and sugar proposed in Chapter
2 of the government’s Child Obesity
Plan, we also need to support lifestyle
change by families.
A child’s early home environment
and relationships profoundly shape
their future health and wellbeing.
Establishing a healthy lifestyle right
from the start is much more effective
than trying to change habits later –
and obesity is hard to reverse. Only
one in 20 children who are obese aged
five will be a healthy weight at age 11.
Failure to provide effective support to
families in the early years comes at a
cost to society as well as individuals.
Poor diet is the behavioural risk factor
that has the single highest impact on
the NHS budget, and excess weight
is estimated to cost the NHS £6.1
billion per year.Investing in early years
obesity prevention is an essential and
cost-effective use of limited public
When parents
sense they
have been
heard and
they are more
able to reflect
on the kind of
changes that
will benefit
their children
Family attending a HENRY
programme in Leeds


This article was sponsored by Henry. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister