Developing a whole system approach to healthy weight in Gwent

Latest evidence shows that two-thirds of adults in Gwent are currently living with overweight or obesity, the joint-highest percentage by health board area in Wales. We also know that almost one-third of 4-5-year-olds in Gwent start school already living with overweight or obesity. For adults, this increases the risk of a number of health conditions and can also affect them more widely, for example through social isolation and mental ill health. However, the consequences of living with overweight and obesity also have broader implications for our whole society and impact on many different sectors outside health and care.

The causes of living with overweight and obesity are complex and are about much more than individual lifestyle choices. Many different factors influence the healthy weight ‘system’, which means that there are no simple solutions to this issue. Creating the conditions for healthy weight, through supportive food and active environments, will require us to work together and take collective responsibility, across organisations and roles. By taking a ‘whole system approach’, we can work together to understand the factors that influence overweight and obesity and identify the most impactful levers for change.

In Gwent, we have begun a process of working together as partners to develop this whole system approach. In 2022, people from a wide range of roles and organisations worked together, through a series of local workshops, to build our collective understanding of the issue of living with overweight and obesity. We also created a shortlist of potential priorities to start to focus our work on. At the start of 2023, we then met together again to consider the evidence for each of these potential priorities and choose one area to take forward. Together, we agreed on ‘early years’ (0–7 years age group) as the first priority area of the system for us to work on.

Many people have given their support, ideas and time to this process so far. Taking a ‘whole system approach’ will require long-term commitment from a wide range of stakeholders and this is just the beginning of the journey. By working collaboratively, we aim to shift the ‘system’ so that it becomes easier for all citizens across Gwent to eat well and be more active as part of a healthy, fulfilled life. This will also support broader work to tackle inequity between our communities, in support of Gwent as a ‘Marmot Region’.