Features: October 29th, 2010

By Richard Cowley.

At a time when the UK’s population is being dubbed an ‘older, fatter and sicker’ generation, it is now the responsibility of the leisure industry and local authorities to work collaboratively. Richard Cowley, group health and wellbeing manager from DC Leisure, explains.

A mere 4.7 per cent of the UK population currently utilises the nation’s 2,686 public gyms (FIA, 2010). In order to generate heightened community interest, local authorities and leaders of the leisure industry must consider methods of engaging and educating the population about the benefits of physical activity, health and wellbeing. If we can successfully create a social hub for each family unit, we can educate tomorrow’s generation about the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle.

As the UK’s leading leisure contractor, we firmly believe that leisure centres should not simply be a ‘run of the mill’ community facility. Instead, they should be a thriving hub of health and wellbeing for the whole community to access. Local residents must be provided with an array of activities that will engage them in physically active lifestyles, and ultimately help them to become healthier individuals. It is also our responsibility to engage with Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to deliver demographic specific interventions.

Fighting the obesity epidemic

At present, there are 24 million obese adults in the UK. Worryingly, there are a further 3 million children across the country classed as overweight or obese (MEND, 2010). This demographic requires guidance and support to encourage weight loss, weight maintenance and a healthy lifestyle. So how can LAs, PCTs and leisure deliverers work in partnership to support their local community?

“In order to tackle the obesity epidemic, comprehensive and multi-level service interventions need to be developed through agencies working in partnership. We believe that this will give the best possible opportunity for sustainable outcomes for Rotherham families.” Gill Harrison, public health specialist, NHS Rotherham.

NHS Rotherham is leading the way in developing and providing successful needs based weight management services for children and adults. In partnership, we have rolled out a range of programmes that encourage families to make small changes to their everyday lives to lose and maintain weight in a positive and supportive environment.

Commencing in July 2010, Carnegie Club, a 12 week course for the whole family, explores the importance of physical activity and nutrition. Children aged 8 to 17 years, who have a body mass index (BMI) over 25, are eligible for the Club either through self referral or referral via NHS Rotherham or Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council services.

Identifying Rotherham’s disturbing obesity epidemic, NHS Rotherham is also funding the North’s first MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do it!) programme. Piloting at two of Rotherham’s leisure centres, 5 to 7 year olds will be able to access expert advice and guidance about weight management, just like their siblings involved with Carnegie Club. This emphasises our movement towards socially inclusive programming and educating the family unit.

NHS Rotherham has invested £3.5 million in childhood and adult obesity services. This level of investment demonstrates local prioritisation and shows the sheer strength of commitment that NHS Rotherham has in tackling both childhood and adult obesity. “In partnership, we recognise that being a healthy weight, engaging in physical activity, and practising healthy eating are important factors in preventing overweight and obesity in the short and longer term.” Natalie Dunn, healthy living programme manager, DC Leisure.

Generations at risk

Secondly, let’s explore the needs of our older generation at risk of Cardiovascular (CV) diseases. Nationwide, individuals aged between 40 and 74 years are entitled to a GP screening for CV disease. Those found at risk require a pathway for guidance around physical activity and lessening the risk of CV disease. Our responsibility lies here. Joining with PCTs, not only can leisure deliverers provide expert health advice, but also physical activity programmes that can aid this demographic. For example, the CV screening pathway funded by NHS Rotherham allows 1,600 individuals to access our local leisure facilities, free of charge for six weeks. Under expert supervision, these individuals can gain unlimited access to wet and dry leisure programmes, such as swimming, dance and gym use.

Preventative measures

LAs nationwide and the leisure industry as a whole should also consider preventative measures; building participation and grass roots sports is essential in order to develop healthy future generations. Teaming with National Governing Bodies (NGBs) allows for pilot programmes to be run across the country educating those that might not have considered exercise as a healthy approach to life. For example, leisure contractors that team with the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) can engage more people in swimming to achieve the health and wellbeing effects of this low impact form of exercise.

In addition, it is of utmost importance that we support our elderly population. It is projected that in 25 years the number of people aged over 60 will rise by 50 per cent (Help the Aged, 2010). The elderly have many predisposing risks of falling; these include poor vision, balance disturbances and degenerative joint diseases. This alarming statistic demonstrates the importance of partnering with PCTs to work with the aged community on fall prevention. Not just that, but also to encourage social interaction, friendships and confidence.

Health and wellbeing for all

The average public health and fitness monthly membership fee currently stands at £29.97 in the UK (FIA, 2010). In order for less affluent communities to have equal access to leisure, health and wellbeing facilities, it is the responsibility of LAs, PCTs and leisure deliverers to provide flexible programmes of support. LAs should carefully consider sourcing funding to identify deprived neighbourhoods with the greatest needs. They can then design tailored physical activity programmes; for example, residents may not know about their local facilities, entitlements, or the benefits of taking part in activities such as swimming or aerobics.

Education is key

Ultimately, education holds the key to our country’s wellbeing. Collaborative working is essential; we must carefully blend the provision of physical activity with health and medical expertise for families nationwide. It is through comprehensive and multi-level interventions that we will succeed and drive the state of the nation’s health forward.

For more information visit www.dcleisure.co.uk