Spending by Birmingham City Council on countering obesity has plummeted in the last 12 months, according to data collected by The Bureau Local and shared with Birmingham Eastside.
The figures reveal that funding to tackle obesity in adults dropped by 92% since 2013/2014 — from more than £5.6 million to less than half a million.
Meanwhile spending related to physical activity in adults has dropped by 20% in the last 12 months alone.
The figures come just weeks after a report by the NHS revealed that the West Midlands region has the worst rate of physical activity among its population and the second worst rate for inhabitants being classed as overweight.
See how Birmingham or your local authority is faring on physical activity, obesity and related public spending
The health and wellbeing of citizens are part of the City Council’s Vision Priorities 2017-2020, which insists on the importance of physical activity, increased public spaces for doing so, and availability of healthy places to eat in the city.
But it seems the Council is back on the drawing board with regards to specific initiatives.
Rolling back spending for reassessing more wisely?
Dr Emma Frew, reader in Health Economics at University of Birmingham has been counselling the City Council on tackling obesity. She argues that at the moment, it is hard for local governments to address overweightness on their own:
“[Recent cuts] are probably a combination of both the current financial pressure by the national government and city-level programmes’ ineffectiveness. I think there have been many papers in the literature recently that have shown that isolated interventions, like the one that has been published this week, show that school-based obesity prevention programmes in isolation are not enough to tackle obesity.”
The Council is currently drafting an anti-obesity plan that draws on the latest evidence and looks at which interventions are effective.
Dr Frew, therefore, insists on the importance of the broader, systemic factors. The Council is currently looking at possible education, housing, and poverty interventions, among other things, before reincreasing spending.
Amsterdam offers some encouraging evidence
Professor Russel Viner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Children Health is also well aware of the financial pressure imposed on England’s city councils, and that there is no magic bullet for tackling obesity. Nevertheless, he opines that drastic cuts on anti-obesity measures are rather shortsighted.
Viner says that, although “there isn’t a huge amount of evidence on the effectiveness of local programmes – and I don’t think it’s an area for which we need a lot of it”, increasingly, some initiatives are worth considering.
What we need is a national action, like on the sugar tax, but we also need local governments to act on planning for instance, like with fast food outlets. Here in London, the mayor is about to ban fast food outlets from being near schools. Cities can do a number of things. Birmingham, for example, has higher obesity problems. Hence we think it is very short-sighted to cut funding on obesity measures.
Asked whether broader systemic factors like poverty, deprivation, fast food outlets, the food industry, presence of sugar should be factored in, Professor Viner takes no detour:
“All of these things are important, every single one of them. And cities can only affect some of those.”
The City Council has not returned our repeated calls.