Recent international research has shown that preconditions for being overweight or obese are set early on in life. Evidence shows that long term health outcomes for the child can be influenced by the expectant mother’s nutrition, physical activity and weight gain. Health 4 Life is a programme funded through the New Zealand’s Ministry of Health with the goal of reducing childhood obesity by improving the uptake of nutrition and physical activity advice in pregnancy and the first year of an infant’s life. This programme is innovative in its strategy to reduce childhood obesity by addressing maternal risk factors.
Health 4 Life provides free education to all health professionals who work with pregnant women and new mothers. Education sessions focus on improving the consistency and quality of nutrition and physical activity messaging and behaviour change support delivered by health professionals. The programme includes provision of a resource (Loving Pepe for Life) to support health professionals in addressing health behaviour change, with emphasis on services that work with Maori, Pacific and vulnerable women.
Health 4 Life was jointly implemented in the Wellington region by the Regional Public Health unit, District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations (PHOs). Focus groups of health professionals and parents were used in the planning and design of the programme to develop a service that best meet the sector’s needs. Health 4 Life works in partnership with service providers and local communities to deliver the programme across the greater Wellington region.
This programme was developed to be culturally appropriate for Maori and Pacific populations, making the programme transferable to populations within New Zealand. Changes would need to be made to apply this programme to different cultures.
Health 4 Life was developed in 2015 and delivery of the programme commenced in February 2016. The project’s interim evaluation report shows that to date: 248 health professionals have received the training; at least 40% of the education sessions have been delivered in areas of high deprivation; participants have been ethnically diverse; and participants have rated the programme as “Valuable” or “Very valuable” (78%).
The current evaluation indicates the programme is performing well in terms of reach, value, impact and acceptability. Participants report a higher level of confidence in addressing and supporting behaviour change after attending the education. At this stage, there is insufficient data collected to measure the direct impact of the programme on women and whanau.
Successfully engaging with midwives is the programme’s key challenge. Midwives are a key target group to promote healthy behaviour changes in pregnant women, and further effort is required to reach them effectively.