A senior councillor has called on central government to support the efforts of St Helens Council and other local areas by making healthy weight a greater priority.
Despite figures from a recent report estimating that more than 70 per cent of adults in the borough are overweight or obese, a number of proactive initiatives are in place in St Helens to address the national issue which costs the UK economy around £32b annually.
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In a motion brought forward by St Helens Council’s portfolio holder for better health at a full council meeting, Coun Gill Neal praised the work being carried out in St Helens but felt more needed to be done by the Government.
She wanted all of the food revolution actions implemented by the end of this parliament, food poverty tackled and a fairer and greater obesity focus of the use of sugar levy funding, including allocation to local authorities rather than to individual schools
Coun Neal said: “The council notes that obesity is a major public health concern, with the majority of adults in England being overweight or obese and more than a third of our 10 to 11 years old being overweight or obese.
“We recognise that the causes of obesity are complex. Environmental, physiological and behavioural factors all interrelate and play their part in influencing the prevalence of obesity. This is why at a local level St Helens has a wide range of activities to tackle obesity.”
Over the past few months, the council’s public health department has been running a series of well-attended healthy weight workshops which bring together health professionals to explore ways to achieve a healthy weight in St Helens.
In April 2016, the council became the first local authority in the country to sign up to a healthy weight declaration, which aimed to promote healthy weight and improve well-being of the local population.
With hot food takeaways being a main factor around obesity, the council has introduced a number of polices and initiatives to control the issue.
These include a supplementary planning document introduced in 2011 to stop new hot food takeaways opening within 400m of a school or college; the Chip Fryer Award which has seen 19 fish and chip shops across the borough rewarded for significantly reducing the salt content in their chips while promoting healthier cooking methods; and the Healthier Options St Helens Takeaway (HOST) scheme, a pledge by businesses that they will gradually work towards reducing salt or fat across their menus.
Highlighting the link between obesity and food poverty, Coun Neal pointed out that the most deprived areas of the borough have considerably more fast food hot-spots than wards considered to be more affluent.
She hailed projects like the local holiday hunger scheme which aims to ensure children on free school meals are not going hungry in the school holidays.
“No one is ‘immune’ to obesity,” said Coun Neal, “but some people are more likely to become overweight or obese than others. Factors of income, social deprivation and ethnicity all have an important impact on the likelihood of person becoming obese.
“Data from the National Child Measurement Programme shows that obesity levels in the most deprived per cent of children is approximately double that of the least deprived per cent.“
As a way of encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle, a number of healthy eating concept restaurants with take-out options have opened for business over the past couple of years, an introduction welcomed by Coun Neal.
She said: “We are committed as a council to reducing the numbers of fast food outlets and working with businesses to support healthy options and food choices for residents. However, it is vital that this government gives us the resources we need to continue this work.
“I am really proud of the work our public health team, our schools and our partners are doing to promote healthy eating and tackle the causes of obesity in St Helens, and I would encourage all residents who want to make healthier food choices to contact our healthy living team for support.”
Showing his support to the motion, Thatto Health ward councillor Richard McCauley suggested members take part in a sponsored weight-loss challenge to raise funds for the Mayor's charities which are the Diabetes Centre at St Helens Hospital and the Steve Prescott Foundation.
To find out more about the healthy lifestyle initiatives in St Helens, visit Healthy St Helens or call 0300 300 0103.