One of the government’s top scientific advisors visited representatives from NIHR School for Public Health Research (NIHR SPHR) and Public Health South Tees, to understand how research can help address public health challenges in Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland, including promoting healthier diets.
Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care and lead of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – the nation’s largest funder of health and social care research – met with members of the Public Health South Tees team, which covers Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland. He also met with local NIHR SPHR funded researchers and teams running projects improving health and well-being, and supporting the welfare of those living in the area.
He was given a tour of the Live Well Centre in Middlesbrough, which offers a wide range of support to people in Middlesbrough who want to lead healthier and happier lives. There are multiple services housed in the centre, including stop smoking services, GPs, a gym, and services aimed at helping people to access benefits. At the Centre, Professor Whitty heard about the Healthy Takeaway Masterclasses, an intervention developed as part of the NIHR SPHR funded Foodscape study, which is testing methods for promoting healthier takeaway food. The study was led by SPHR researchers from Fuse in collaboration with SPHR researchers from University of Cambridge and University of Exeter, alongside practice partners from Public Health South Tees.
During the Masterclasses, takeaway owners and staff in Redcar and Cleveland are provided with a range of nutritional improvement opportunities and asked to pledge to provide at least one healthier food option. Since taking part in the Masterclass sessions, many takeaway outlets have reporting achieving their pledged target with the most popular changes requiring minimal effort and cost, for example, by reducing sugar or salt, or using semi-skimmed instead of whole milk.
Speaking about his visit, Professor Whitty said: “Research on a public health issue can take place in many settings but is at its best when the research focuses on an area where that public health issue is common and researchers work with the local public health teams.
“Collaborations between South Tees Council and NIHR-funded researchers, such as the Healthy Takeaway Masterclasses, are an excellent example of research responding to the local need in Middlesbrough.”
Dr Amelia Lake, Fuse Associate Director and Reader in Public Health Nutrition at Teesside University, co-leads the Foodscape study. She said: “Our Masterclasses with South Tees provided food outlets with the skills to help them make small changes which could make the food they serve healthier.
“Making our food environment a healthier one requires us all to work together, that includes local food businesses as well as health and policy professionals.”
Watch this video to find out how SPHR researchers worked with takeaway owners
Professor Whitty also spent time in Redcar & Cleveland heard about The Transformation Challenge which helps troubled families in some of South Tees’ most deprived areas. The team matches families and individuals with a key worker, whose role is to provide intensive support, liaising with specialist services to help effect and sustain positive changes in their lives.
He met with the team who run the Transformation Challenge, the key workers and two individuals who have turned their lives around thanks to the project.
Edward Kunonga, Joint Director of Public Health for Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland, said: “We were delighted to have Professor Whitty spending a day with us.
“We had the opportunity to share with him some of the excellent programmes and services we have in this area as well as some of the challenges for our local population.
“We discussed the important role research plays in ensuring we continue to deliver the best and effective services for our population.
“We look forward continuing to engage with Department of Health and Social Care as well as the NIHR to ensure local research has a positive impact on our local population.”