A community-led programme to improve infant nutrition in London's South Asian communities wins prestigious public health award

22 Oct 2021

The Nurture Early for Optimal Nutrition(NEON), programme, supported by NIHR ARC North Thames, has been awarded a prestigious Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Health and Wellbeing Award 2021, in the 'Health at every age' category.

Established in 2007, the RSPH Health & Wellbeing Awards recognise and celebrate a wide range of activities, policies and strategies that empower communities and individuals, improve the population’s health and address the wider social determinants of health.

Children of South Asian origin in east London have a much higher risk of poor nutrition and obesity than the average UK child. The Nurture Early for Optimal Nutrition (NEON) programme aims to optimise infant feeding, care, and dental hygiene practices among children under 2 years old, within communities of South Asian origin in East London. It shifts the power to the community to better support mothers and carers.

It is well evidenced that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are an important period for both growth and brain development, and that feeding practices developed during this period can impact children’s nutrition, growth, dental health and cognitive development, and longer-term health later in life.

NEON is led by Prof Monica Lakhanpaul from the Institute of Child Health and Dr Logan Manikam from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, both at University College London. It is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), and supported by NIHR ARC North Thames, who submitted the nomination. The programme has been developed in partnership with South Asian communities in East London and involves a wide range of academic, health, local government and charity partners including London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest Council, Newham Council, North East London NHS Foundation Trust NHS Foundation Trust, The Parent and Family Support Services in Tower Hamlets, Tower Hamlets GP Care Group, UCLPartners, British Heart Foundation and Newcastle University.

South Asian women's group meeting up

NEON is a community-led and co-produced intervention, which supports the development of safe, inclusive environments for mothers and carers to explore the key health challenges they face, share information about good practices, and support each other to overcome any issues.

Community members were trained as co-researchers in order to shape the NEON aims and approach, and local, bilingual women were trained and introduced into local women’s groups as community facilitators to lead the NEON intervention. These groups helped to reduce language barriers and literacy issues so that communities were given health advice that they understood and could turn into action.

Geromini Pushpakanthan, a NEON community facilitator, said:

“I am very proud to be included in this project and to be acknowledged by other people. I have not only improved my knowledge of diet and knowing what foods are healthy and unhealthy, solutions and alternatives for food and more - I have also helped other people that are related to me improve their knowledge. I am thankful to be a part of this project.”

Overall, the programme has seen improved nutrition and feeding practices, maternal and neonatal survival rates, and the research has influenced Tower Hamlets and Newham Local Authority early year programmes. It has also led to the co-development of an intervention toolkit with South Asian Communities in East London, which includes a cultural recipe book with healthy baby feeding practices, a list of local support services, and participatory community asset maps (for example, identifying low-cost fruit and vegetable shops and play areas).

Programme lead Professor Monica Lakhanpaul said:

“We are honoured to have been recognised by this award and I receive it on behalf of our community members, research team and local partners who have worked in close collaboration every step of the way. The NEON programme was developed with the community, for the community, ensuring that it was tailored to their needs, and that the voices of mothers and carers were at the heart of this work. Gaining national recognition for a project that is truly community-led demonstrates the growing acknowledgement that inclusion and co-production are crucial for improving the health and wellbeing of the public”. 

Jenny Gilmour, 0-19 service development lead at Tower Hamlets GP Care Group who are partners in the NEON programme, said:

"It has been and continues to be a privilege to work with the NEON team, in refining and developing great resources further, contributing to the advisory panel overseeing the content and planning programme delivery. This will be strengthened by facilitating the link to Health Visitors across Tower Hamlets, and they in turn will provide access and support to the families who will benefit the most in terms of identified need. Tower Hamlets GP Care Group are delighted that this programme has been recognised in the RSPH Awards 2021."

The NEON programme was one of only 3 projects to be shortlisted in the RSPH Awards category of ‘Health at Every Age’, which celebrates programmes that improve the health and wellbeing of a specific age group, either through improving their health in the here and now, or protecting their future health.

Professor Rosalind Raine, Director of NIHR ARC North Thames said:

“A huge congratulations to Professor Lakhanpaul and the NEON team on their RSPH award. It is excellent to see this important work recognised, aligning with NIHR ARC North Thames’ vision to work in partnership with communities to develop applied health research that is centred around their needs and experiences, and to drive forward better health outcomes and reduce inequalities”.

RSpH winner logo


Further information

Find out more about the NEON programme

Meet the 2021 RSPH Health & Wellbeing Award Winners

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