A community and UCL-led programme to help improve infant nutrition and support mothers in London’s South Asian communities has been nominated for a Royal Society award.
The Nurture Early for Optimal Nutrition (NEON) programme, led by Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health) and Dr Logan Manikam (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), has been nominated for a Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Health and Wellbeing Award 2021.
Children of South Asian origin in east London have a much higher risk of poor nutrition and obesity than the average UK child. In response, NEON aims to optimise infant feeding, care, and dental hygiene practices among children under two years old, within communities of South Asian origin in East London.
It is well evidenced that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are an important period for both growth and brain development, and that feeding practices developed during this period can impact children’s nutrition, growth, dental health and cognitive development, and longer-term health later in life.
NEON is a community-led intervention which supports the development of safe, inclusive environments for mothers and carers to explore the key health challenges they face, share information about good practices, and support each other to overcome any issues. The programme is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) , and supported by NIHR ARC North Thames , who submitted the nomination.
Community members were trained as co-researchers to shape the aims and approach of the programme, and local, bilingual women were trained and introduced into local women’s groups as community facilitators to lead the NEON intervention. These groups helped to reduce language barriers and literacy issues so that communities were given health advice that they could better understand and could turn into action.
Overall, the programme has seen improved nutrition and feeding practices, maternal and neonatal survival rates, and the research has influenced Tower Hamlets and Newham Local Authorities’ early year programmes. It has also led to the co-development of an intervention toolkit with South Asian Communities in East London, which includes a cultural recipe book with healthy baby feeding practices, a list of local support services, and participatory community asset maps (for example, identifying low-cost fruit and vegetable shops and play areas).
Programme lead Professor Lakhanpaul said: "We are honoured to be nominated for this award and I receive it on behalf of our community members, research team and local partners who have worked in close collaboration every step of the way.
"The NEON programme was developed with the community, for the community, ensuring that it was tailored to their needs, and that the voices of mothers and carers were at the heart of this work. Gaining national recognition for a project that is truly community-led demonstrates the growing acknowledgement that inclusion and co-production are crucial for improving the health and wellbeing of the public."
Geromini Pushpakanthan, a NEON community facilitator said: "I am very proud to be included in this project and to be acknowledged by other people. I have not only improved my knowledge of diet and knowing what foods are healthy and unhealthy, solutions and alternatives for food and more - I have also helped other people that are related to me improve their knowledge. I am thankful to be a part of this project."
Jenny Gilmour, 0-19 service development lead at Tower Hamlets GP Care Group who are partners in the NEON programme, said: "It has been and continues to be a privilege to work with the NEON team, in refining and developing great resources further, contributing to the advisory panel overseeing the content and planning programme delivery. This will be strengthened by facilitating the link to Health Visitors across Tower Hamlets, and they in turn will provide access and support to the families who will benefit the most in terms of identified need. Tower Hamlets GP Care Group are delighted that this programme has been nominated for the RSPH Awards 2021."
Professor Rosalind Raine (Director of NIHR ARC North Thames and UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health) said: "A huge congratulations to Professor Lakhanpaul and the NEON team on their RSPH nomination. It is excellent to see this important work recognised, aligning with NIHR ARC North Thames’ vision to work in partnership with communities to develop applied health research that is centred around their needs and experiences, and to drive forward better health outcomes and reduce inequalities."
Established in 2007, the RSPH Health & Wellbeing Awards recognise and celebrate a wide range of activities, policies and strategies that empower communities and individuals, improve the population’s health and address the wider social determinants of health.
The NEON programme was one of only three projects to be shortlisted in the RSPH Awards category of ’Health at Every Age’, which celebrates programmes that improve the health and wellbeing of a specific age group, either through improving their health in the here and now, or protecting their future health.
The winners will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday 21st October 2021 starting from 6.00pm at East Winter Garden in London and virtually via the RSPH Awards platform.
As well as working with South Asian communities in East London, UCL researchers developed the programme in partnership with a wide range of academic, health, local government and charity partners including London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest Council, Newham Council, North East London NHS Foundation Trust NHS Foundation Trust, The Parent and Family Support Services in Tower Hamlets, Tower Hamlets GP Care Group, UCL Partners, British Heart Foundation and Newcastle University.
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Email: rowan.walker [at] ucl.ac.uk