An award-winning training scheme designed to improve the health of the nation?s youngsters is making a major impact.
HENRY - Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young ? is delivering e-learning courses via the internet in partnership with online training pioneer Virtual College in Ilkley.
Last year, HENRY received The Association for the Study of Obesity Best Practice Award. The accolade acknowledges, publicises and rewards good practice in the field of obesity.
It was awarded to the Oxford-based HENRY team, led by Professor Mary Rudolf, consultant paediatrician with Leeds Primary Care Trust and Professor of Child Health at the University of Leeds, and Programme Director Candida Hunt, who is a training and parenting specialist.
The only initiative in the UK that focuses on families with babies, toddlers and pre-school children, HENRY was established following a review in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2005, which provided evidence that obesity had its roots at a much earlier age than previously thought.
It showed that rapid weight gain in the first months of life increased risk and that overweight toddlers were five times more likely to develop obesity in childhood. Figures reveal that by the time children start school, 1 in 4 are overweight and 1 in 10 are obese. Focusing efforts on the school years is, therefore, simply too late.
HENRY, which was initiated as a result of findings from the work of experts on the Royal College of Paediatrics and the Child Health Obesity Research Group, is supported by the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools & Families.
HENRY training courses were piloted with 15 Sure Start Children?s Centre teams, and was then opened up to a much wider audience with the introduction of an e-learning course developed in partnership with online training provider, Virtual College that was also piloted in 115 Sure Start Children's Centres. Results of both pilots were impressive.
Interest in HENRY face-to-face courses - for practitioners, for group facilitators, for trainers, and, of course, for parents - has grown rapidly. Department of Health regions, strategic health authorities, Primary Care Trusts and Local Authorities across England have commissioned HENRY training.
More than 40 courses have been delivered so far this year, and more than 100 courses are already booked for the rest of 2009 and into 2010.
Funding has also been secured to evaluate HENRY in greater depth, developing a methodological framework that uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Professor Rudolf said: "HENRY's success has been nothing short of phenomenal, with the initiative cited in four government documents, including the Healthy Child Programme - the core health visiting programme designed to meet the needs of all children.
"HENRY's special emphasis lies in providing an early intervention approach that equips health and community practitioners with the skills, knowledge and strategies they need to make them more effective in preventing and reversing obesity when working with parents of very young children.
"The approach seeks to encourage positive parenting skills that will help families to establish healthy eating patterns, address food and activity issues ? supporting parents in giving children a healthy start that will stay with them for life, and also promoting a healthy lifestyle for the whole family.
"HENRY has a particular focus on disadvantaged communities, where obesity is more prevalent and opportunities for healthy eating and activity often less available.
"Creating an online version of the HENRY training has helped us to get this very important message out to many more practitioners and parents."
Abby Dacres, of Virtual College, explained: "We converted the key messages of HENRY?s highly successful training courses and resources into an online format so they could reach many more people.
"Both healthcare commissioners and providers recognise how these can contribute to tackling rising obesity rates in young people."
HENRY?s website is at www.henry.org.uk