Case Study: Health Education England

Reducing childhood obesity in the UK

LAS has partnered with Health Education England to help tackle childhood obesity in the UK with two linked behaviour change apps - one to encourage families to make lifestyle changes and the other to help health professionals support them in their journeys.

The Issue

Obesity is a real and growing problem, costing the NHS and the economy an estimated £27 billion per year and affecting the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people. In the UK one third of children are classed as overweight or obese. Their weight puts them at higher risk of a number of illnesses in adulthood such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breathing problems and some cancers. If their weight can be addressed in childhood by embedding healthier habits around diet and exercise, their quality of life will be greatly improved and the cost to the NHS and economy vastly reduced. HealthEducation England initially contacted LAS to ask for ideas on a mobile learning course for health professionals to help them support families with obese children.

The Challenge

We researched the very complex issue of how and why children become obese. We particularly looked for patterns and blockers to behaviour change. What we found was that one-size-fits-all advice, which takes no account of family situation or aims was, at best, ineffective and often demotivating.   

We've completed a lot of behaviour change projects over the years and so went back to HEE with a new suggestion. Instead of building the mobile learning course they had originally asked for, we suggested that we build behaviour change goal setting apps.

The Solution

We worked with a team of obesity experts, including a health psychologist, to create two apps.  

The first app is for families. It allows them to set achievable health goals such as walking to school, cutting down on snacks or getting the kids outside, or to set their own goals. It then encourages them to think about any barriers to achieving the goal and what they can do to overcome them. They also rate their confidence level and the importance of the goal to their family and track progress towards their goals, earning points as they do so. The app also includes a family survey tool, ‘healthy challenges' games for the kids to play, a ‘healthy choices' section with better alternatives to a range of foods and a parent's survival guide to help them troubleshoot excuses for not eating healthily or being more active.   

The really innovative part though is that families can link their account with that of healthcare professionals they interact with, such as doctors, health visitors, dentists and others, via a unique QR code in the app. The healthcare professionals can then see the family's goals, barriers, what they're working towards and their progress. This means that in the 30 seconds before they see the family, the professional can get a snapshot of that family and what's important to them. This hugely enhances the in-person interaction, as tailored advice and guidance can be given, improving the quality and efficacy of the conversation and so increasing the chances of the family sustainably changing behaviour. 

Over time the family will get many small nudges from all the health professionals they encounter, moving them towards the goals that are important to them as a family.This is a good example of our human-centred approach to design paying dividends.

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The Results

The apps have been well received by families and health professionals alike so far and will be the subject of a longitudinal study by University of Oxford. 

We are already planning Phase 2 to integrate with wearables and to provide real-world rewards, for example; taster sessions at local sports clubs, cookery lessons and sports equipment.

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"The NoObesity apps focus on developing the workforce to support families around childhood obesity and enabling families to set behavioural goals to support their own health and wellbeing. However, furthermore, the two apps provide a unique solution to supporting workforce development, as well as enhancing service delivery through the app linkage. A very exciting piece of digital development”
Em Rahman, Head of Public Health Workforce Development, Health Education England

About Health Education England

Health Education England (HEE)is part of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. HEE exists for one reason only: to support the delivery of excellent healthcare and health improvement to the patients and public of England by ensuring that the workforce of today and tomorrow has the right numbers, skills, values and behaviours, at the right time and in the right place.

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