COMPLETED: The Wessex FRIEND Toolbox (Family Risk IdEntificatioN and Decision)
Identifying high risk groups early to improve health in young families in Wessex
Team members: Professor Nisreen Alwan (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), Dr Grace Grove (Clinical Research Fellow, School of Primary Care, Population Sciences and Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton), Dr Nida Ziauddeen (Research Fellow, School of Primary Care, Population Sciences and Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton),Dr Lauren Wilson (Research Fellow, Geography & Environment, University of Southampton)
Food Insecurity Risk Indices for Neighbourhoods 2021
Start: 21 October 2019
Ended: 30 September 2022
Project Partners: University of Southampton, Solent NHS Trust, Southampton City Council, Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire County Council, Health Education England, Oxford Brookes University
We know that prioritising health is complex, particularly for families living in social and economic disadvantage. The SLOPE CORE tool estimates the future risk of childhood overweight at the start of primary school. It can be used by health professionals in consultation with the families they are working with to help facilitate various interventions towards the prevention of childhood obesity. We have tested the acceptability and feasibility of this tool in the first phase of the Wessex FRIEND project, as part of a broader programme of work, aiming to improve the health of children and families in Wessex. We have trialled it with health visitors in the first instance, just so that we can get some initial feedback and improve it before combining it with other components of interventions.
We have also been refining and tailoring area-based child poverty, food poverty and greenspace access measures to the local and regional context and population, so that our risk tool takes into account the area profile and resources where the family lives. These area-based measures, which represent neighbourhoods, may also be used independently by local governments and civil society/third sector to help in targeting resources to better support people living in areas of higher risk for food and child poverty, or with poorer access to greenspaces.
What have we found out?
We tested a digital tool called SLOPE CORE which predicts if preschool children are likely to be overweight by the time they start school. Health visitors and parents found the obesity prediction tool quick and easy to use. Using the tool provided the opportunity for health promotion, and may facilitate difficult conversations by giving an objective result and removing the perception of professional judgement. This may encourage conversations on healthy weight and could influence health visitor practice by increasing provision of anticipatory support on feeding.
Health visitors felt that, when using the tool, the healthcare professional should have sufficient time to have a sensitive discussion and explain a conceptually difficult concept (risk). Parents felt that the tool provides an opportunity for behaviour change and potential to improve health for the child but can also provide reassurance. They appreciate the provision of additional resources and support with the results. However, before using the tool the healthcare professional should consider whether the tool is appropriate, as it may be unsuitable for some parents.
We refined and tailored area-based child poverty, food poverty and greenspace access measures to the regional context and population. These provide improved tools for better planning and targeting of services by the local councils. These area-based measures are combined with the individual childhood obesity estimation provided by the SLOPE CORE Tool on one platform, which can be utilised by frontline professionals dealing with disadvantaged families.
We also tested the feasibility of the Generating Engagement in Network Involvement (Genie), a facilitated social network intervention, as a means towards reducing risk of adverse family health outcomes.
We tested this with Home-Start in Portsmouth which is a voluntary organisation. Staff found Genie simple to use, really liked the concept and found that familiarity with the system meant the process was much smoother for later entries. Staff felt that being able to fill out Genie on a phone or app would be quite useful. The option of other languages or built-in translation could also make it easier to use. Staff felt that Genie was particularly good for families feeling isolated or new to the area but was unlikely to be relevant for all. However, staff thought it was less realistic for them to use it within the timeframe of visits and other things that need to be done during a visit but they could potentially facilitate the use of Genie by encouraging people to do so themselves.
The network mapping was useful as it made people realise what they have and what they need. Staff found it an interesting exercise to start the conversation and find out what was going on in the lives of individuals/families they were supporting.
A potential barrier to the use of both tools is lack of wi-fi/internet connectivity.
What difference can this make?
Using the obesity prediction tool could provide the opportunity for health promotion and facilitate discussions by giving an objective result and removing the perception of professional judgement. This could encourage conversations on healthy weight and potentially influence health visitor practice by increasing provision of anticipatory support on feeding.
Using the tool antenatally, or with a younger infant may allow for an easier conversation, allowing the healthcare professional to focus on prevention, as opposed to ‘correcting’ a parent’s current behaviour. Health visitors felt that parents were more likely to be receptive to a preventative approach.
The refined area-based measures provide improved tools for better planning and targeting of services by the local councils.
Network mapping using Genie made people realise what they have and what they need and help staff start the conversation to find out what was going on in the lives of individuals/families they were supporting.
Why in this important?
The Childhood Obesity Risk Estimation Tool has the potential to focus targeted intervention for the early prevention of childhood obesity.
The updated food insecurity risk index has enabled local government to target available resources to those with greatest need. It has been included in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) for Hampshire County Council. It has also contributed to food aid planning in Dorset, Hampshire and further resource planning in districts across the country.
The SLOPE CORE tool combined with the area based measures will require further testing to establish how it can be best used in practice, and any impact it may have on childhood obesity.
This could be as part of a new or existing pathway which includes interventions designed to reduce risk of childhood obesity. Healthcare professionals using the tool should be trained in risk commination, be able to advise the parent on next steps, and have time to discuss what can be a sensitive topic.
As SLOPE CORE only requires routinely collected data, it may be possible to build the tool into existing systems - such as healthy weight pathways, routine health visiting contacts and relevant GP consultations, which could save time and support existing work rather than further adding to workload for healthcare professionals.
If internet access is unreliable, then a paper data collection sheet could be used to capture data required to use the tool at another time.
After determining optimum timing and setting for tool use, a longer term evaluation is necessary to explore the impact of the tool on parents and healthcare professionals behaviours in the short term, and childhood obesity in the longer term.
Ziauddeen, N., Roderick, P., Santorelli, G., Wright, J., & Alwan, N.A. (2022). Childhood overweight and obesity at the start of primary school: external validation of pregnancy and early-life prediction models. PLOS Glob Public Health. 2(6): e0000258.
Ziauddeen, N., Roderick, P., Santorelli, G., Wright, J., & Alwan, N.A. (2020). OP55 Childhood overweight and obesity at the start of primary school: external validation of pregnancy and early-life prediction models. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 74(Supplement 1), A26. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech-2020-SSMabstracts.54
Smith, D.M., Rixson, L., Grove, G., Ziauddeen, N., Vassilev, I., Taheem, R., Roderick, P., & Alwan, N.A. Household food insecurity risk indices for English neighbourhoods: measures to support local policy decisions. MedRxiv 2022:22273530. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.04.06.22273530 (preprint and minor revisions requested at PLOS ONE)
Smith, D. and Thompson, C. (2022) Food Deserts and Food Insecurity in the UK. Routledge.
Further funding because of this research:
ARC Wessex - Wessex DIET: Determining the Impact of covid-19 on food sEcurity in young families and Testing interventions
MRC Clinical Research Fellowship (Dr Grace Grove) - Investigating the impact of food vouchers on diet composition and the prevention of childhood obesity
The food security risk index has been included in the JSNA for Hampshire and has contributed to JSNAs and food aid planning in Dorset, Hampshire and further resource planning in Lancaster, Hull Hertfordshire and Greater Manchester to name a selection of Local Authorities, demonstrating the wider reach beyond Wessex.