A Bar-Ilan University professor is presenting her study, which was successful in reducing child obesity in the city of Leeds, to the British Parliament.

This week, Prof. Mary Rudolf, head of the Department of Population Health at the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University, will present her study on reducing childhood obesity at the Food and Health Forum of the British Parliament. A program initiated by Rudolf and her colleagues has successfully reduced child obesity in Leeds, particularly among children living in poverty.

The world-renowned specialist will share her study that led to a 6.4 percent drop in obese children in Leeds between 2009 and 2017 following the implementation of the “HENRY program,” developed by Rudolf and her colleagues.

HENRY is an acronym for Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young. It was established to tackle the worldwide obesity epidemic through training and educating healthcare professionals and families with preschool children in low socio-economic areas through innovative methods.

“We used nationally collected data in our study, so it was very obvious that something different was happening in Leeds,” Rudolf said.

Childhood obesity is a global challenge, particularly for children living in poverty. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that about 41 million children worldwide are overweight or obese. Including adolescents, the number rises to 124 million.

Obesity affects health and well-being in a variety of ways, such as the risk of rising blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Rudolf’s Leeds study was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.

In Israel, one out of five children is obese or overweight by the beginning of first grade. That number increases to one in three by seventh grade, according to the Israel Ministry of Health, which in 2014 implemented HENRY. It has been translated into Hebrew and Arabic, and pilot programs are taking place in a number of cities and towns.

University of Haifa Professor Orna Baron-Epel has been evaluating the success of the Israeli program. “Results show that group work with parents was particularly successful in changing family lifestyle,” Baron-Epel said.

Israel is now considering extending the program through its national healthcare providers.

Though the results of the program in Israel have not yet been finalized, Rudolf believes that a society that invests in early childhood health will enjoy great returns.

“If we are going to make a difference, we must start at a young age, before the onset of obesity,” she said. “This can reduce the impact of poor lifestyle later on.”

Rudolf is an honorary professor of Child Health at the University of Leeds. She moved to Israel in 2012 to join the Faculty of Medicine at Bar-Ilan University.