Addressing childhood malnutrition
In response to a call from the college’s Sheila Kitzinger Programme, Dr Shobi Nagraj (DPhil Women’s and Reproductive Health, 2017) initiated a project on addressing childhood malnutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic. This brought together local grassroots organisations, academics, scientific and policy experts, local schools, health and social care professionals and civil society organisations in Oxfordshire, to discuss the systemic issues around childhood malnutrition.
The project hosted a roundtable discussion on ‘Childhood Malnutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic’ that took place at Green Templeton College on 17 November 2021. The event was led by Shobhana (Shobi) Nagraj (Green Templeton College), Fiona Steel (Good Food Oxfordshire), Claire Gray (Oxfordshire County Council) and Anant Jani (Oxford Martin School). Josefina Orliacq and Benjamin Jones together with the four leads present their report of the event:
After a welcome from the Principal of Green Templeton College Sir Michael Dixon, Dr Shobi Nagraj presented an overview of the scope of the problem, format of the day and purpose of the meeting. This was followed by presentations from Fiona Steel, Good Food Oxfordshire and Claire Gray, Oxfordshire County Council, who introduced the local food strategy and a whole systems approach to healthy weight.
The first session consisted of sharing the local experiences of grassroot organisations and identifying priorities for childhood malnutrition in Oxfordshire. On-the-ground practitioners shared their first-hand experiences of tackling childhood malnutrition, how they had rapidly mobilised resources and developed sustainable models of community action. The wide variety of projects and passionate insights presented by local groups, highlighted to the audience the real-world impacts of child food poverty, with examples of strategies to tackle childhood malnutrition.
The Madni Mosque in Banbury shared how they have set up and run a local community gym with women’s only groups, and highlighted the importance of educating parents about childhood nutrition. At The Chippy Larder (TCL) in Chipping Norton, their offering was across four areas: Food, Finance, Fitness and Futures, with the aim of empowering, nourishing and connecting the local community. This initiative expanded to include the ‘Chicky’ Larder – buying and sustaining a flock of chickens (housed by Bruern Farm), thereby providing free range eggs for TCL members.
In the case of the Swan School, Oxford, the Headteacher shared their experience of organising inclusive and nutritious, dining table-based, vegetarian lunches at the school. Children were asked to lay the table for lunch and eat together, thereby promoting good dietary and dining habits. A representative of the OX4 Free-Food Crew spoke about the development of local social enterprises to help cook and deliver food. The essential roles of volunteers was highlighted, including the importance of recognising their contributions to the local community, and the need to remunerate their time. Other points highlighted during the talks included that to ‘eat well’ means different things to different people and often depends upon culture, age and environment.
Discussions at the end of the first morning session identified potential areas of future work, including the need to support families during the early years, sharing learning across grassroot programs, and investigating the quality of data on nutritional measures across Oxfordshire.
After a short tea break, the second session focussed on identifying and showcasing models and programmes supporting good nutrition for children and families. This included presentations from the Cherwell District Council and Play-full practitioners on school holiday activities from a variety of perspectives. During these talks, the importance of policy and advocacy were highlighted. Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini, Councillor for Northfield Brook, provided insights into local childhood poverty and the struggles faced by communities in relation to housing and job security in Blackbird Leys.
After a social lunch, the afternoon session started with case studies from beyond Oxfordshire. Professor Ray from India shared the successful ‘Mobile Teaching Kitchen’ project, an initiative that promoted the training of ‘Kitchen Champions’: members of the community, who could then prepare and sell healthy, balanced dishes locally. This provided these community members with pathways to sustainable development, through a social enterprise. We then heard from Professors Daniel Del Rio and Francesca Scazzini, who showcased their excellent community work in the city of Parma, including the development of partnerships with local businesses. Dr Shobi Nagraj and Dr Anant Jani grounded these local and international interventions in the wider social context, by providing an opportunity to learn about designing and evaluating sustainable interventions and systems approaches to addressing childhood malnutrition.
Some of the key learnings of the day were that communities’ voices are key to understanding local priorities and need to be harnessed when influencing local policy and food strategy. The importance of addressing the systemic issues relating to childhood malnutrition, collaborative working across multiple local stakeholders, and engaging with, and learning from global examples of good practice was also emphasised.
Finally, the event provided an opportunity for all the attendees to make specific commitments to address childhood malnutrition by writing their commitment onto a ‘Commitment Tree’. These commitments also involved ensuring that local programs are rooted in the communities’ needs and recognizing diverse needs of different communities within Oxfordshire and incorporated their voices.
We hope that the commitments taken will help improve childhood nutrition in Oxfordshire in the near future and intend to continue the amazing work that was shared and started during the roundtable meeting and will meet again in Spring 2022!