Local Action Heroes

08 July 2019

Across the world, communities are taking local action to support people to lead healthier and more active lifestyles. Two such initiatives are the Oklahoma’s ‘This City is going on a Diet’ from the US, and ‘Newcastle Can’ from the UK. At first glance, both initiatives look similar; however, there are some key differences.


What were their aims?

Both initiatives set aims for target weight loss. Oklahoma aimed to lose 1 million lbs, and Newcastle 100,000. With populations of 3,943,000 and 300,000, respectively, this equated to a 0.25lb target weight loss per person in Oklahoma, and a more ambitious 0.33lb per person in Newcastle.

What did they do?

Both interventions were website-based. Those taking part in the Oklahoma intervention were able to log miles walked and pounds lost, whilst those taking part in the Newcastle intervention could access a personal food diary and weight loss dashboard, information about healthy eating and exercise, and details of upcoming events and local resources.

In Newcastle, businesses, organisations, community groups and neighbours joined the initiative in teams, challenging and supporting one another. The Newcastle Can team took to the streets, visited community clubs, businesses and organisations, ran challenges, created a social media movement, and hosted events. They even turned Northumberland Street into a free gym!

Oklahoma’s intervention involved a $777 million taxpayer-funded infrastructure improvement programme (MAPS 3), funding sidewalks, wellness centres, a 70-acre urban park, and a 2-acre community garden in a food desert area that was lacking access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The initiative also promoted public-private partnerships.

Who supported them?

‘Newcastle Can’ was supported by a wide range of independent health charities, researchers, health professionals and advocacy groups, including Diabetes UK, the British Dietetics Association, Food Foundation, Children’s Food Campaign, the National Obesity Forum and Sustain.

Conversely, ‘This City is Going on a Diet’ was supported by the Oklahoma Beverage Association and the Oklahoma Grocers Association, two industry groups, who partnered with Oklahoma City-County Health Department. Importantly, both groups opposed changes to the food environment, e.g., they actively discouraged the introduction of soda taxes, and encouraged individual behaviour change.

What were the outcomes?

Both initiatives achieved their aims. Although Newcastle began with the more ambitious aim, they reached their target within 1.5 years, while Oklahoma reached their target within 5 years. From 2014-17 Oklahoma saw a decrease in deaths due to heart attacks and strokes, but not diabetes. Following its success, Newcastle City Council decided to continue with Newcastle Can, incorporating more programmes under the Newcastle Can banner.

Though some good examples can be drawn from both initiatives, Newcastle Can has been a resounding success, achieving a more ambitious target within a much smaller time-frame and steering clear of industry groups. So, if we are looking for inspirational local action, it turns out that we don’t need to look too far from home to find it.