Launching its 'Be Active, Be Health' initiative last week, the DoH suggested that GPs should be prescribing exercise 'as readily as drugs'. Founder member of the National Obesity Forum Dr Peter Stott is a GP in Surrey where exercise prescription schemes have been running for several years.
'The combination of medical prescription, in the form of advice from the GP, and financial help with gym membership works well,' he told GP.
'Such initiatives can be particularly important for people who are less well off and might struggle to pay for schemes themselves,' he said.
One problem, he pointed out, was that most schemes do not audit their impact. 'We need to make sure what we're doing is having a positive effect,' he said.
Some sort of audit should be worked into the structure of exercise initiatives, he argued.
'Patients should commit to a follow-up with practice nurses six months on, where they have their BP and so on measured,' he said.
'It may be that we can reduce the doses of some of the medicines they are taking and that can also be motivating for patients,' he added.
Dr Ian Campbell, a GP in Nottingham and medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said he believes that GPs have lost sight of the benefit of physical activity.
'It is really important that GPs raise the issue of exercise with their patients,' he said. 'It only takes a minute or two to explain the benefits of taking at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
'What is more problematic for GPs is to set out the details of what exercise patients can actually do,' he said.
It would be down to local authorities and others to work with gyms and leisure centres to develop programmes in line with the recommendations in the report, he pointed out.
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