HENRY – Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young
Israel is now following the unwanted lead of other Western countries and has high and increasing levels of child obesity. One in five children in Israel is already overweight or obese by the time they enter first grade. The problem is greatest in Arab communities where more than 1 in 3 children are obese by seventh grade. Efforts to tackle the epidemic must be initiated in the first years of life before obesity has taken root.
HENRY is a successful obesity prevention program co-founded in the UK by Professor Mary Rudolf. Widely implemented across England, over 10,000 health professionals have now been trained in its approach. Given its success in helping families give their very young children a healthy start in life, the Israeli Ministry of Health has brought HENRY to Israel and is introducing the approach into Tipat Halav (mother and infant clinics) and day care centers across the country. HENRY’s strength lies in its focus on parenting skills and the way it helps health professionals work more effectively with families.
Research in the UK has demonstrated HENRY’s success in encouraging family lifestyle change, not only with parents, but with health professionals themselves. But success in the UK does not guarantee success in Israel. The Ministry of Health has translated the program and its resources into Hebrew and Arabic, and cultural adaptation is needed too. This is a particular necessity for Haredi and Arab communities who are both economically disadvantaged and differ strongly from mainstream Israelis in their attitudes to obesity and healthy lifestyle.
The Galilee is an ideal setting to explore the sorts of issues involved in tackling obesity across cultural divides. We are already exploring antecedents of childhood obesity across the varied cultural groups of the Galilee, and are gathering the views of rabbinical leaders, health professionals and mothers in the Haredi communities of Safed and Hazor. We need to extend our understanding to ensure that HENRY is adapted to meet cultural needs of other communities and develop culturally appropriate resources to help families with lifestyle change.
Through HENRY Israel is implementing a national strategy to parenting and obesity prevention. Our contribution is the research and development arm which will increase our understanding of the obesity epidemic and the cultural challenges involved in reversing it. The value of this work will translate elsewhere and lessons learnt will be of value to other countries who are struggling to ensure that preventive efforts reach those in most need.