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The Wessex FRIEND Toolbox (Family Risk IdEntificatioN and Decision)

Principal Investigator: Dr Nisreen Alwan and Dr Dianna Smith

Team members: Dr Nisreen Alwan (Associate Professor in Public Health, School of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Dr Dianna Smith (Lecturer in Geographic Information Science, Geography & Environment, University of Southampton), Professor Paul Roderick (Professor of Public Health, School of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Dr Ivaylo Vassilev (Principal Research Fellow, School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton)

Start: 21 October 2019
Ends: 20 September 2021

Project Partners: University of Southampton, Solent NHS Trust, Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire County Council, Health Education England, Oxford Brookes University

Lay summary
Nearly a third of all UK children are overweight. Obesity in children is strongly linked to obesity in adulthood, and hence diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Children living in the most deprived areas in England are twice as likely to live with obesity compared to children in the least deprived areas. Cost of a healthy and varied diet is a major barrier against the prevention of childhood obesity and poor health more widely, with an estimated 4 million UK children living in poverty, following a rapid rise within the last 5 years. Food poverty is on the rise with a record 1.6 million food parcels given to people in the last year. Although we know that poor health including obesity is shaped early in life, and even before birth, the current system has no means of identifying families whose children are at risk of obesity in order to focus support efforts early on.

We have created a tool to predict childhood obesity at school age which can be calculated at multiple time points; pregnancy, birth and during the first two years of life. We have used large-scale Hampshire data from our SLOPE project (Studying Lifecourse Obesity PrEdictors) to generate those risk scores. This project aims to produce a user-friendly version of this tool, called the SLOPE CORE (Childhood Obesity Risk Estimation) Tool, built into a website and a smartphone app, for the use of health and care professionals interacting with young families as well as parents/carers.

We will update and derive locally sensitive area-based measures of child poverty, food poverty and access to green space (see mapping tool). These will be available for utilisation by the local Council to identify areas and populations where resources are most needed to reduce existing health inequalities and will aid the SLOPE CORE Tool in targeting preventive action and support towards disadvantaged families. The intention is to address social inequalities (food, child poverty and poor access to greenspace) which in turn will positively impact obesity and ill health risk in disadvantaged households.

We will provide these tools on one platform, the Wessex FRIEND (Family Risk IdEntificatioN and Decision) Toolbox, along with a social networking intervention, Genie, which will be made relevant to families with young children and tested to see if it supports more engagement with existing community members, activities and resources, and develop links with new network members.

We have involved mothers of young children in discussions around the acceptability and delivery mode of the SLOPE CORE. We will have two public contributors on our steering committee who will help shape the detailed steps of the project. We will disseminate our findings to regional and national agencies, with the support of our public contributors, stakeholders and collaborators.