“It’s helping everyone move towards a proactive approach of taking care of people’s health.”

A nutrition and well-being project is being rolled out across the Dimensions group and nutrition volunteers have been recruited to work with people we support across Somerset.

The project provides one-to-one coaching with menu plans and nutritional advice specifically tailored to individual preferences, empowering people with learning disabilities and autism to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet. In addition, the programme gives support workers a greater understanding of how to manage health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease through diet and exercise.

Launched in November 2020, the project focuses on the importance of gradually introducing and embedding healthy habits, unique to each person, to reduce the chance of weight-related diseases.

Tackling health inequality

People with learning disabilities and autism often face poorer health outcomes than the general population, with recent data showing that women with a learning disability die on average 27 years younger, and men 22 years younger than the general population. 1 Specifically, people with a learning disability are also more likely to have problems maintaining a healthy weight. 2

Responding to these persisting health inequalities, the Dimensions’ project takes a proactive approach to supporting people’s health, recognising that small changes can help prevent many health issues from arising in the first place.

The absence of a healthy diet and exercise can often exacerbate poor health, and impact on every aspect of a person’s daily life, such as sleep and mobility. By focusing on achievable lifestyle changes and working with people to gradually implement more healthy habits into their daily routines, the project is already yielding promising results.

The project in action

The project wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of dedicated volunteers, many of whom are nutrition students or restaurant chefs. Most volunteers work with people supported by Dimensions and their support teams on a one-to-one basis, developing recipes, meal plans and sharing nutrition advice. This individualised approach means the resources can be highly personalised and address the specific needs of each person.

Since the project began in November, Dimensions has recruited 30 nutrition volunteers, who have directly supported 44 people.

Paul Bown, Dimensions’ Volunteer Officer, is responsible for co-ordination of the project across the Dimensions Group. He has already seen its real-life benefits:

“The project has been incredibly successful and is moving at a pace we were not initially expecting. There’s been lots of interest both within Dimensions as well as among volunteers.”

“Support workers and managers want what’s best for people and want to make sure they’re supporting them in the best way they can. The project is helping everyone move towards a proactive approach of taking care of people’s health.”

For Paul, the key to the project’s success is its focus on making effective changes. The goal of the project is not solely weight-loss, but instead the implementation of long-lasting and sustained new habits which enable people to lead healthier and happier lives.

“If a person eats take-away chicken and chips a couple of times a week and if, in six-month’s time, we can change that habit, so they eat real chicken and cooked potatoes with some vegetables; that’s a real success.”

1Learning Disabilities Mortality Review 2019 Annual Report
2 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/managing-weight-with-a-learning-disability/