Mary Haddow is a specialist nurse working on a new scheme that forges links between healthcare professionals and community services to tackle obesity.
The most enjoyable part of her job is helping children and families, but her task is not an easy one.
"Denial, guilt and low self-esteem are linked to obesity so it can be a real challenge getting children and families to attend appointments," says Mary. "So we try to find ways to ease children out of their comfort zone. A walk along the beach with our exercise instructor can be a crucial first step."
The new scheme brings together a range of healthcare professionals and services to offer personalised care and support for children with obesity problems. It is based on a local, holistic and sustainable approach and brings together a multi-disciplinary 'paediatric healthy weight team' – consisting of doctors, nurses, a dietician, psychologist and physical instructor – providing medical assessment, dietary advice, exercise programmes and nursing support. Children and parents also work with community services offering a hands on approach to empower them to improve diet, physical activity and confidence. Services include cooking classes, exercise programmes and fun activities.
"By getting out into the community, children can make new friends, develop new skills and more confidence," says Mary, adding that it is, ultimately, a lifestyle choice that the scheme is aiming to change. And this is where community services play a crucial role.
Around 110 children have been referred to the scheme from paediatric services, school nurses, health visitors and GPs. There have been positive results since its launch seven month ago and an evaluation will be undertaken by the University of East Anglia.
Mary was responsible for setting up the day-to-day running of the scheme, and has developed a range of managerial and organisational skills with the experience of setting up a whole new scheme, coordinating services and working closely with community services.
"It has been a fascinating role, a good challenge and a huge learning curve," says Mary. "Many people, even health professionals, do not know what is available in the community," she says. There are good services in place but effective co-ordination is needed to bring these together.
While the extra workload has been a struggle, good communication and a supportive team with a "can do" attitude has helped to deliver the comprehensive service, she explains. Every child and family is unique, and with a range of services on offer, it is important to think creatively and outside of the box to deliver personalised care and support and to ensure no child or family slips through the net, she explains.
Hilary Class, president of the paediatric and child health royal society, praised the scheme: "The biggest challenge in overcoming a problem like childhood obesity is that there isn't a single solution; there are multiple factors at play. So any solution must necessarily draw on a range of people if it's to really work."