Case study: Local authority makes a media splash after reducing childhood obesity

Leeds became headline news at the start of this month, with a series of headlines across print, online and broadcast media on the fact that the city had become the first in Britain to reduce its childhood obesity rate.

Leeds capitalised on falling childhood obesity rates to gain positive media coverage (Pic credit: William Voon/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Leeds capitalised on falling childhood obesity rates to gain positive media coverage (Pic credit: William Voon/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The comms team at Leeds City Council had the odds stacked against them, due to purdah restrictions ahead of the local elections. This meant that a reactive stance, rather than a proactive campaign, was necessary.

However, a combination of planning and placing trust in a charity partner, HENRY (Health, Exercise, Nutrition for the Really Young), resulted in a story that received widespread coverage in the mainstream media.

Advance planning

In March, Phil Morcom, a comms officer at the council, discussed with public health colleagues how to exploit research revealing the reduction of childhood obesity in Leeds. With the start of purdah fast approaching in advance of this month's local elections, it was decided to wait before publicising the research.

Nonetheless, the comms team did preparatory work to inform the key stakeholders and drafted key messages and a communications strategy. 

Media interest

The research, led by academics and linked with childhood obesity organisation HENRY, was published in the Journal of Pediatric Obesity and the results shared at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow at the end of April, prompting coverage from The Times, Guardian and Daily Mail.

This had the knock-on effect of generating interest in media outlets ranging from the BBC Radio 4 Today programme to ITN, Sky and local media.

Media interest was much easier to deal with, according to the council’s comms team, because public health colleagues had engaged with communications early. 

The plans Leeds put in place for work on the research was a solid basis for the reactive approach it took, while access to case studies held by HENRY and public health colleagues allowed media to speak to people who could tell their story.

There was minimal budget to publicise the research, which was been promoted through children’s centres, health workers, owned channels, and earned and social media.

Morcom, who led the council’s comms response, said: "It was great to have a chance to share good news about positive work being done in Leeds to improve lives of families in the city. I really hope this means good practice is shared and more children will not be obese, growing up to live longer, healthier lives – not just in Leeds but far beyond."

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