Back in November, as part of a wider report on the issue, RSPH examined the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) and questioned whether it is proving as effective as it might be in the fight against childhood obesity. This sparked a valuable debate about how local authorities can best deliver the programme. Sarah Vince-Cain, Clinical Programme Manager for Childhood Obesity at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, explains the changes being made there.

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) hits the headlines every year, and not always in a positive way. Parents who receive the 'bad news' letter are often taken off guard and are understandably surprised, angry and disbelieving. Research tells us that parents are unlikely to recognise overweight in their own children (health professionals don’t always fare much better), yet behaviour change methodology cites awareness as a key stage in the cycle of change.

Introducing CHAMP (Children's Health and Monitoring Programme)
In Manchester, we are keen to feedback results to parents yet recognises that a letter does not always hit the right mark.

Phone calls to parents were trialled, yet capacity was limited and language barriers often proved difficult. We saw that there was a need for parents to receive feedback in a positive and consistent way and at a time and place convenient for them.

CHAMP (Children's Health and Monitoring Programme) was developed by Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2013. The online parental feedback system was initially created to support the National Child Measurement Programme (currently provided by the Trust’s School Health Service). However, in the second year of CHAMP, a five school pilot was undertaken to test the concept of measuring all primary aged children and offering parents annual growth updates.

Such was the success of the pilot that the scheme was extended to all primary schools across Manchester. During this academic year, parents of approximately 45,000 children have been invited to view their children's growth online.

The benefits of CHAMP
There are several benefits of using an online parental feedback system, both in the short and longer term:

  • Rather than offer parental feedback by letter, CHAMP invites parents of measured children to register with the website and to view their child’s results at a time convenient to them.   
  • By using a web-based system, parents are offered a visual representation of their child’s growth as well as useful links to resources and local support.  
  • The information offered online is easily translated into several languages.
  • The website offers a ‘Contact Us’ facility where parents can contact the team requesting individualised advice and support.  
  • Online registration opens up digital bi-directional communication which enables the wider community to engage with the CHAMP system and to co-produce future developments. 
  • Digital communication can be used for an array of public health messages at appropriate stages of a child’s development. 
  • Online communication, rather than traditional postage, can result in significant cost savings.

CHAMP evaluation and data analysis
A team of academic researchers from the University of Manchester are on hand to meticulously analyse the data generated from the extended measurement process and to evaluate the CHAMP system. The data scrutiny will help us to understand the pattern of weight increase amongst children, the optimal point at which to offer support and whether online parental feedback has the potential to disrupt excessive weight increase in children.

Warm welcome for CHAMP
School teams and parents have welcomed the programme and have been keen to take part in individual discussions and group sessions. Heads are keen to learn more about their school's data and how to tackle childhood obesity among their own students, offering to host parent forum sessions and to contribute to the future development of CHAMP. Widespread, ongoing dialogue will be key to exploring how the broad range of partners can pull together to serve the community and help keep children healthy.  

Supporting and developing CHAMP
The CHAMP system is part of the Reducing Childhood Obesity in Manchester (RCOM) Programme; a collaboration led by Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in close partnership with City in the Community (Manchester City Football Club), Manchester City Council, Health Education North West, the University of Manchester and ASDA. Key partners also include families, primary schools, the British Heart Foundation and the Big Life Group.

Supported by Manchester’s local Obesity Strategy, the RCOM programme has ambitious plans and aims to:

  • Build on the NCMP to capture and analyse extensive annual measurement data for children in all primary school years in Manchester (approximately 45,000 children in 135 schools). 
  • Develop evidence-based interventions delivered in partnership with communities.
  • Test new roles to support engagement and build community capacity.
  • Define the key workforce skills required to support a reduction in childhood obesity.
  • Explore the benefits of a whole system partnership approach.

Our ambition is for CHAMP to become a digital and social space where local schools and families can engage with the programme partners, as well as with each other, in order to share information and explore a range of support options. Through this approach we aim to harness the community's energy and enthusiasm, joining forces to generate positive lifestyle change and a reduction in the level of childhood obesity across Manchester.