A COUNCIL has been urged to focus on helping improve children’s nutrition as it approved sweeping changes to public health services for youngsters, including reducing in-person health visitor meetings and moving away from school nursing.

The calls came as North Yorkshire County Council’s executive approved launching a ten-week public consultation over its proposed Healthy Child Programme, a universal preventative and health promotion programme which aims to ensure all children get the foundations for a healthy life.

The meeting heard the proposed programme would see resources concentrated on pre-school aged children and help for school-aged children in need of support.

Dr Lincoln Sargeant, the authority’s director of public health, said the planned Healthy Child Programme changes were part of a series of measures  following a £4m cut in public health funding from the government. He said: “In an ideal world with adequate funding we would not have to make radical changes to our services. It is important that we see this as not just targeting one service, but part of an approach of trying to deliver high quality services across all of the responsibilities that we have to our public.”

Dr Sargeant outlined how the proposed changes would see some of the five early years health visitor meetings become virtual ones, rather than in person, which unions have said would mean some serious issues may not be identified.

He told the meeting: “It is important that the public recognises that the change is qualitative not quantitative. We have learned quite a lot during the period of Covid and lockdown that the advances in approaches and digital technology is very helpful, particularly in a rural county.

“Even if we weren’t facing budget reductions that there are some of these proposals that are absolutely timely and push the way that we deliver services in an innovative way.”

The meeting heard numerous councillors welcome the plan to target efforts on the very young.

However, Councillor Paul Haslam warned that the council’s public health cuts, which will include the loss of a scheme to tackle childhood obesity, could lead to false economies, by creating more people with diabetes or behavioural issues.

He said: “I would have liked to have seen much more emphasis on food. If you are hungry wellbeing is probably secondary and there is a lot of evidence that the right nutrition actually improves children’s behaviours.”

Cllr Haslam suggested the council could consider liaising with businesses to set up breakfast clubs in all schools.

Dr Sargeant replied that the council would continue to build on the significant efforts it had already made to tackle childhood obesity.

However, the authority’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd said one focus of the council’s efforts should be getting parents to understand how to avoid junk food.

He said: “It was a great loss when they weren’t taught how to cook at school or that skill set wasn’t passed down from generation to generation.

“That’s perhaps one of the biggest hurdles that we’ve got to overcome.”

Cllr Dadd added: “Look at childhood obesity rates, sadly across all sections of society, but more notably in the poor quarters of our communities with the prevalence of easy takeaway shops and the like. If we can get parents to follow that healthy choice then perhaps we are on to a winner.”