A new home for the HEY programme

Tackling childhood obesity through health literacy education for parents

The HEY programme is still as important as it was ten years ago when it was developed by Danone

This year the Healthy Eating for Young Children (HEY) programme celebrates its 10th birthday. The HEY programme was first developed by Danone in 2011. It started life as a pilot programme, forged in partnership with Wiltshire Council, 4Children and the Community Health and Learning Foundation (CHLF), and was designed to help address the link between poor nutrition, skills for life, poverty, and poor long-term health.


It was a successful programme, 140 HEY courses have taken place, with 1249 parents completing the course. Two rigorous evaluations were conducted in 2017 and 2018, which found that parents who took the HEY course increased their knowledge and made significant, positive changes to their lifestyle. They experienced physical and mental benefits themselves and said they now knew what their toddler needed to lead a healthy lifestyle.


After taking part in the course 98% of parents said they understood food groups, 94% said they understood how much of which food group they should eat and 96% said they felt able to get the best value for money at the supermarket. Big jumps in behaviour were noted too. 87% of parents reported that their toddlers were eating fruit and vegetables (versus just 23% at the start of the course), and 72% of parents reported that their toddlers were exercising regularly (versus 57% at the start). Surprisingly, there were also changes beyond just healthy eating and healthy habits. 90% of parents said the course had helped them feel more confident and many felt it had acted as trigger for other positive lifestyle changes. Over two thirds even felt as though they had made new friends by the end of the course and some reported that the course had given them an opportunity to take a break from parenting and focus on themselves and had given them the chance to learn new things.


Historically, the programme was taught in children’s centres and community centres across the UK. However, with a reduction in children’s centre provisions, Danone decided to look for a new sustainable ‘home’ for the programme.


In 2020 after a period of discussion with the WEA, an agreement was reached to hand over ownership of the programme to help evolve it as a digital programme and give it the opportunity for maximum reach and impact.


The WEA is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland, and some of the WEA team had been involved in delivering HEY classes in children’s centres previously. They recognised the value of the programme, and the strength of the evaluation approach and were keen to take the programme on and help to scale it up.


The WEA has extensive experience in tailoring learning programmes and fully utilising technology to better meet people's needs. As an organisation it is dedicated to addressing the digital skills drive and ensuring that as many people as possible have access to online learning.


One of the barriers to healthy eating in the early years is a lack of language, literacy, and numeracy skills amongst parents. HEY helps parents develop these life skills, with modules focusing on budgeting for food shopping, reading food labels, and reading recipes.


Nick Howard, National Partnerships Manager at WEA, commented, “We are really excited to give HEY a new home and usher it into its next chapter. We want to educate as many people as possible about healthy eating as well as developing skills for life, so we have integrated HEY within an existing family learning programme. So far we’ve had great feedback from students as well as the tutors.”


Naturally, some educational courses have a sell-by date, but the HEY programme is still as important as it was ten years ago. Childhood obesity remains one of the biggest health problems facing the UK and rates are continuing to rise.  Being overweight or obese can have a profound impact on a child’s health and wellbeing, it can impact them negatively during their childhood, and limit their future life chances. Educating and empowering parents with the HEY resources can facilitate a positive intervention.


Rebecca Lovelady, Sustainability & Social Innovation manager at Danone, commented, “We know from our evaluations just how important the HEY course is and what a change it can make for families. We are proud of our ability at Danone to create programmes in a social innovation space, crafting something that helps to answer a specific social need. We set out to tackle childhood obesity through health literacy education for parents, and we can be proud that we delivered results in that area, and more, with evidence of HEY helping parents’ confidence and wellbeing in a broader sense too. We can look back on this achievement with real pride. We couldn’t be happier that the WEA is taking HEY on and has great plans for ensuring it has the reach and engagement it deserves.”


You can find out more about our social innovation programme or work here.