Features: May 28th, 2010

Lifestyle plays a big part in the health of people, but many are unaware of the scale of difference it can make. The NHS MidLifeCheck helps people find out how their lifestyle compares to a more healthy approach and suggests what they can do to become more ‘healthy’. There are also signposts for further help.

As pressure on budgets and resources increases, the new online service NHS MidLifeCheck is proving to be an innovative way of delivering public health messages. Launched in February 2010 by the Department of Health, it has already received over 150,000 visits from ‘midlifers’ who are keen to find out how they are doing. On average 4,000 people a day have been logging on to the site, three times more than anticipated.

The lifestyle-assessment website can be used to support the delivery of a number of community health initiatives, and is an easy way for professionals to introduce people to wider support services and engage them with health and wellbeing issues.

Lifestyle improvement

NHS MidLifeCheck works by guiding people through a set of simple multiple-choice questions and then providing tailored advice on how they can take small steps to improve their lifestyles by setting goals and signposting to national services for further support. Topics include healthy eating, physical activity, alcohol, smoking and emotional wellbeing. Users are encouraged to create a plan for areas in which they want to improve. They can then sign up for free motivational messages – giving them tips and advice to support them in making longer term changes.

Relationship between lifestyle and health

New research released by NHS MidLifeCheck just after the Marmot Review, shows a stark contrast between how those from socially affluent and socially disadvantaged groups feel about their own wellbeing and future health outcomes.

According to the research people aged 45-64 with the lowest incomes are currently:

• More than twice as likely to identify their own health as poor compared with
higher earners (32 per cent vs 12 per cent)

• Almost twice as likely to feel that they are unfit (48 per cent v 27 per cent)

• More likely to feel unhappy (27 per cent v 17 per cent)

• Twice as likely to say they know next to nothing about their own health and
fitness (19 per cent vs 9 per cent).

By informing, empowering and supporting people in leading healthier lives NHS MidLifeCheck aims to help these people understand how their current lifestyle choices may affect their long- term wellbeing. It is designed to improve the ‘healthy literacy’ of individuals who may have previously felt excluded and gives them more opportunity to direct their own health outcomes.

Influencing change

Initial reports suggest that it is proving to be an effective way of helping people over 40 turn their good intentions into reality. Dr. Michael Dixon, GP and Chair of the NHS Alliance, said: “I am a big advocate of preventative healthcare, that’s why I believe in NHS LifeCheck. The responsibility lies not just with healthcare professionals, but also individuals and their communities. By putting the power of managing their health into their own hands, we will ultimately use less high-tech, high-expense treatments and save valuable resources in the long run.”

Support organisations currently signposted in the site include; MIND, Diabetes UK, British Heart Foundation, FPA, Walking For Health and the Stroke Association – as well as signposting to other areas within NHS Choices. There are also links that will help people find out where they can access local services.

For more information about all NHS LifeCheck services, to understand more about how it can be used, and to download materials go to www.lifecheckers.co.uk.

NHS LifeCheck

• NHS LifeCheck has been developed following the publication of the 2006 White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, and aims to enable people to assess and better manage their own health and wellbeing.

• NHS MidLifeCheck is one of three NHS LifeCheck services currently available. There is also:

o NHS Baby LifeCheck – for parents and carers of babies aged 5-8 months – number of users. www.nhs.uk/babylifecheck

o NHS Teen LifeCheck – for young people aged 12-15 – number of users. www.nhs.uk/teenlifecheck

• With its emphasis on empowerment, choice and access, NHS LifeCheck has a crucial role to play in helping the NHS and the Government to achieve their overall objectives for health and social care reform, which are:

o developing services that are truly responsive to people’s needs

o preventing ill-health by promoting healthier lifestyles

o reducing health inequalities

The tone and content of NHS LifeCheck has been designed to appeal most to those people from socially disadvantaged communities. To date, the Government has dedicated £5.8 million to provide the service in 83 Communities For Health areas concentrating on reaching the most socially disadvantaged groups in England.