Helping people live healthy and active lives is set to remain high on the public agenda to ensure future generations avoid long-term difficulties caused by obesity.
The Island’s Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart addresses childhood overweight and obesity in her Annual Report 2018 Childhood Healthy Weight - the road to a better future which is published today, 17 August.
Dr Ewart describes the issue as one of our greatest public challenges, confirming that local figures - which show a quarter of children on Island are overweight or obese at age five - are similar to those in England. Dr Ewart discusses the findings of her report in a video which can be viewed on the Department of Health and Social Care website www.gov.im/DPHannualreport
The report suggests a transformation of the food ‘environment’ is needed to ensure healthy food and drink choices are readily available Island-wide. It outlines opportunities for government to work with local retailers and food outlets to encourage healthier options, especially near schools.
Evidence shows that physical activity one of the best things an individual can do to improve their health, whether overweight or not. A key theme of the Programme for Government - helping people to live longer, healthier lives - is driving a range of initiatives to make physical activity a normal part of everyday life.
The Active Travel Strategy is a major cross-governmental project aimed at increasing the number of people who walk, jog or cycle for short everyday journeys. Tynwald has committed £3.8 million to the initiative over four years and an action plan which will set out clear, achievable goals is currently being drawn up.
Adopting healthy lifestyle choices is promoted as the first strategic goal of the Department of Health and Social Care’s Five Year Strategy, which encourages people to take greater responsibility for their own health. More People, More Active, More Often is the rallying call of the Department of Education, Sport and Culture’s Strategy for Sport which aims to help people stay involved in sport and physical activity throughout their lives.
Elsewhere, a major upgrade of the NSC leisure pool will create an appealing new facility for children and families to exercise in a fun environment, while an overhaul of the Peel to Douglas Heritage Trail is designed to attract more young people to cycle, walk, scoot and ride along the old railway line.
Dr Ewart concludes partnership working between government, the private and third sectors, communities, families and individuals is the key to tackling obesity. At a strategic level, creating opportunities for people to exercise and eat healthily can be factored in at an early stage, and an example of this would be using the planning system to limit the number of fast food eateries near schools, and ensuring walking or cycling to school are made easy choices for pupils.
Other ideas for action include a suggestion that children should be routinely measured in Year 6 as well as in their reception year, so that weight trends can be tracked. Family-centred weight management programmes for those who need more support could be offered to help children and pick up healthy habits for life.