Our healthy life mission aims to increase the average number of healthy years lived in the UK, while narrowing health inequalities.
Within the Nesta Cymru team we have the opportunity to design, test and scale projects and develop innovations that are specific to Wales, and that respond to the challenges, opportunities and environment of the Welsh context.
Our team in Wales works with partners and projects, identifying ways to work together to try new and different ideas, reflecting the distinct political, cultural and economic landscape.
Obesity is as much, and potentially even more, of a serious health issue in Wales than in any other part of the UK – with nearly 1.6 million adults in Wales obese or overweight and higher rates of childhood obesity than any other part of the UK.
Health has been a devolved matter in Wales since 1999. Since devolution the role of the private sector in healthcare has diminished in Wales and there is an opportunity to move faster and further in the introduction of public health measures that aim to make healthy eating easier for all. In particular, the Welsh government is interested in improving the healthiness of our food environment.
Both the Well-being of Future Generations Act, unique to Wales, and the Welsh Government’s obesity strategy have a stronger focus on health inequalities than other parts of the UK. The Well-being of Future Generations Act in particular also encourages taking a longer-term view and greater public participation and involvement in decision-making.
Our approach recognises the political, cultural and operational landscape in Wales and we work within this to test targeted and tailored innovations that will maximise the opportunities and address the challenges within Wales. Longer-term, given the Welsh Government’s obesity strategy crosses a number of departments, we will explore working more closely with our other missions, as services and projects around sustainability and childhood inequalities are linked to our healthy life mission in Wales.
Given the above context we are focusing our work in Wales in the following areas:
As part of our work towards the overall goal of improving access to healthier food and drink we recognise there is a specific opportunity to influence primary school meals in Wales. Given the current roll-out of free school meals for all primary school children in Wales, we can support work being done within Wales to tackle childhood obesity by testing new approaches to ensure children benefit as much as possible from these meals.
From school food system shaping, to improving school meal take-up and monitoring and reporting, we are looking at ways in which we can test and scale interventions to improve the healthiness of food eaten in schools.
When it comes to improving access to healthier food and drink to the wider population, encouraging food producers to make popular food items healthier and reducing unhealthy food and drink promotion, there is an opportunity to move further and faster in Wales. We understand there is potentially more political support for measures that aim to improve our food environments than in the UK government - Welsh Government recently ran a consultation with huge ambitions to introduce new measures which aim to make the healthy choice the easy choice. The Well-being of Future Generations Act allows for more long-term ambitious thinking.
We are keen to support this appetite for reform by using our methods to inform and influence decisions on:
- how restrictions on price and placement of less healthy foods and calorie labelling requirements could be most effectively introduced
- the use of planning regulation to limit the number of takeaways in towns and close to schools
- where else we might look to make improvements to the food environment, such as streetscape advertising, online grocery and takeaway delivery or reformulation of popular foods.
- understanding how best to test and evaluate such interventions to ensure they benefit everyone in Wales, including those on low incomes or living in rural areas.
To help us reach our goal of improving evidence on diets we will work with partners in Wales to increase our understanding of obesity and diets.
There are differences in the way data is collected in Wales that could be addressed to really help fill the gaps and inform thinking. Most notably, the measurement of body mass index (BMI) is currently only through self-reporting in Wales. This is different to the rest of the UK and means there could be inaccuracies around what is reported and groups that choose not to report.
There are also opportunities to address data gaps in the diets of the population. This data could be useful to inform decisions across the UK with partnership working in Wales identifying effective, scalable solutions.
We’re interested in working in this area to find better ways of collecting and sharing data in Wales that will not only improve overall understanding of diets but to also give us data for future work in this area.
We approach these issues with a combination of scientific rigour and creative ideas. We draw on our expertise in data analytics, behavioural science, design, arts and culture and collective intelligence to tackle these problems and opportunities.