Efforts to tackle rising obesity

Obesity and diabetes will be the focus of a number of DoH public health pilots in the coming months, following the publication of the ‘Health Profile of England' last week.

The document highlighted a number of public health success stories but also serious problems in these two areas, showing considerably higher obesity rates in the UK than many other countries in Europe. 

Launching the document, health minister Caroline Flint highlighted the growing problem of obesity as her greatest concern.  

‘Our initial focus will be obese adults and children. The increase in child and adult obesity is storing up serious health problems for the future,’ she said.  

The DoH says that by tackling obesity and diabetes it would also reduce ‘heart disease, cancer, stroke, high BP, cholesterol and a range of factors critical to health like mental well-being’.  

Alongside the health profile it published ‘Health Challenge England’ which lays out the schemes through which it wants to achieve this.  

Few of the schemes will directly involve GPs or other health professionals, with an emphasis being placed on joint working with local councils and helping individual responsibility.  

It also wants to encourage more corporate engagement, endorsing healthy eating labels at supermarkets and cites a scheme from high-street firm Boots as an example of good practice.  

The nationwide health and beauty retailer launched its ‘Change One Thing’ campaign in January 2006.  

The report says: ‘The campaign is designed to provide expert solutions to help people lose weight, eat well, stop smoking, get fit, de-stress and look great. Over 1,000 people have also joined its weight loss programme.’  

The report also looks at the role that health trainers will play in the future of public health and trumpets their role in Life Checks: the three health assessments that all patients will have in their lifetime following implementation of January’s primary care White Paper. It also gives a number of examples of schemes that health trainers are already working in.  

One such pilot, the Bolsover Wellness programme in Notting-hamshire, began as a simple exercise scheme accepting referrals from GPs, practice nurses, health visitors, district nurses, respiratory nurse teams and community support workers, but now employs three health trainers.  

‘From day one, they support people coming onto the scheme, build rapport and buddy them,’ says the report.  

‘They also signpost people to services available locally and help them take up those services, which might involve accompanying them to an initial appointment. They then follow up. Health trainers have added even more value to an already excellent project, by broadening out the service available far beyond physical activity.’  

Dr Chris Spencer-Jones, chairman of the BMA’s public health committee, welcomed the emphasis on helping individuals to make their own healthy choices rather than relying on professionals but said primary care organisations must be allowed to implement the changes outlined in the way that best fits their local situation.  

‘It is vital that PCOs are not captive to politically driven initiatives, which may not, in practice, be that effective,’ he said.  

‘They must be given the freedom to make public health a commissioning priority. They must also be given the freedom to focus on the public health issues which affect local health, and the chance to make a real difference to the health of their community.’ 

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