Whole Systems Approach to Tackle Obesity

Monday 22nd May 2023

‚Äč Ards and North Down Becomes First Early Adopter Site to take Whole Systems Approach to Tackle Obesity

Adele Faulkner (Head of Environmental Health, Protection and Development); Craig Blaney (Non-Executive Director of Public Health Agency); Councillor Karen Douglas (Mayor of Ards and North Down); and David Tumilty (Health and Social Wellbeing Senior Manage

Supported by the Public Health Agency (PHA), Ards and North Down has been announced as the first early adopter site in Northern Ireland to undertake a ‘whole systems approach’ to tackle obesity.

A holistic or ‘whole systems approach’ to obesity prevention can offer a more effective means of tackling high, unequal and increasing levels of obesity in Northern Ireland.

The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Karen Douglas, said:

“I am delighted we are the first council area to move forward with this important initiative. It is unfair that health inequalities exist and that those who live in socially disadvantaged communities are more at risk of obesity related ill health. We need to follow the example taken in other areas by taking a more holistic approach. This can only be achieved by working in partnership with others.”

Colette Brolly, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager at the PHA, said:

“Living with obesity can have significant impacts on our health and wellbeing, increasing the risks of developing chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The causes of obesity are multiple and complex and adopting a whole systems approach helps us identify the changes that are needed at many different levels in our society to support individuals with healthy behaviours. A recent review of international best practice shows that this approach offers significant potential to prevent obesity and improve the lives of people in Northern Ireland.”

Adopting a whole systems approach could mean introducing policy change, interventions at community level or improving local amenities and facilities to support healthier food and dietary choices or enhanced opportunities for physical activity. It will increase understanding about all the factors influencing weight and help to create actions that will support individuals adopt healthier behaviours.

The rate of obesity in Northern Ireland is high and rising – more than a quarter (27%) of adults are living with obesity, putting this group at a higher risk of developing chronic disease. The data also shows that around one in 16 children (6%) are living with obesity in Northern Ireland.

In Ards and North Down, official data shows that around 4.2% of Primary 1 pupils were obese between 2017 to 2019. Female pupils in Primary 1 had higher obesity rate compared to male pupils. The obesity rate increased slightly for Year 8 (4.5%) pupils, but males in Year 8 had higher obesity rate compared to females. Ards Peninsula DEA showed highest overweight and obesity rate (2013/14-2017/18) in the Borough, with around one in three Year 8 pupils being overweight or obese. 

Obesity increases the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as colon cancer, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes, and is linked to substantial direct and indirect costs (to the health service/public services)– estimated to be of the order of £370 million in Northern Ireland in 2009. In 2022, the disease prevalence for some of these conditions were higher in Ards and North Down compared to the rest of Northern Ireland, including diabetes mellitus, cancer, stroke and hypertension.

Photo caption: Adele Faulkner (Head of Environmental Health, Protection and Development); Craig Blaney (Non-Executive Director of Public Health Agency); Councillor Karen Douglas (Mayor of Ards and North Down); and David Tumilty (Health and Social Wellbeing Senior Manager, Public Health Agency).