Fife Learning Disability Healthy Living Initiative was established in September 2008 and was developed for a small group of women with learning disabilities living in the Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy areas in Fife. The project received funding through Fife Community Food Project and was able to run a six-week initiative at the local Community Centre in Kirkcaldy. The purpose of the project was to bring this group of women together on a regular basis to build on social relationships, empower them to adopt healthier eating habits and to improve their overall self-esteem.
The project was developed in partnership between Fife Council, NHS Fife and Fife Community Food Project
Prior to the start of the programme a focus group using participatory appraisal methods was held between the ladies with learning disabilities, carers, health practitioners and the Community Food Development Worker to establish what the group wanted to see within the programme and what they wanted to achieve.
The aim of the project was to empower people with learning disabilities to improve their health by providing education around what constitutes a healthy lifestyle and to increase opportunities to improve social and interpersonal skills.
The main objectives were to provide opportunities to develop skills in menu planning, shopping, cooking, food tasting sessions and basic food hygiene, and also to provide a handbook in an appropriate format for the ladies to ‘record’ what they had learnt during the sessions and to act as a reminder of what had been covered in the various session.
At each session healthy snacks and lunch were provided. All carers were invited to attend the sessions and this was felt to be very beneficial as it enabled the facilitators to gain a better understanding of the current eating patterns of the group and also to ensure that the carers received the correct key messages around food, so that they could fully support the ladies in adopting healthier eating habits.
Evidence has shown that the prevalence of obesity is higher amongst people with learning disabilities and this can be attributed to poor access to healthier foods and limited knowledge around food choices.
These ladies had been identified at being ‘at risk’ by nurses working within the Community Learning Disability Team.
The food tasting sessions proved very popular and encouraged the participants to try foods they had never tasted before. This has been one of the major successes of the project as both the dietitian and the nurses had been trying for many years to get a couple of ladies to eat healthier foods but to no avail, however in a group situation they were willing to try new foods and some began adding these new foods to their weekly shopping basket.
One of the key learnings from the project was understanding that the participants had limited concentration and this affected the amount of information they could retain. Often the sessions had to be adjusted to take this into consideration. Flexibility in being able to adapt the sessions was key to the success of the group, so that the participants received the maximum benefit from each of the sessions and were able to retain some of the information given. All the core messages were presented in a way that the participants could comprehend and at the beginning of each new session the key learnings from the previous week were repeated and all the work was displayed on a sticky wall as a constant reminder of what had been covered in the previous sessions.
Being part of a group has encouraged the ladies to look at new opportunities and try new foods that previously wouldn’t entertain.
The next step is to look at organising practical cookery classes for them to encourage them to cook for themselves.
Lyndsay has this advice to offer:
Planning is important but it is more important to understand the needs of the participants and a flexible approach is paramount. Knowing when to stop is crucial so that you don’t overload the participants with information. Work at their pace not yours!
If you require further information, please contact Lyndsay Clark, Senior Health Promotion Officer, at the address below:
Leven KY8 5RG
email: [email protected]