Suffolk: Olympic success can inspire lifestyle transformation

14:10 06 August 2012

Health campaigners hope Great Britain

Health campaigners hope Great Britain's Olympic success can inspire change

BRITAIN’S unprecedented Olympic achievement has been heralded as a golden opportunity to inspire a sporting legacy in Suffolk and finally break the burgeoning obesity crisis.

Rousing displays of athletic excellence from some of the country’s most dedicated sportsmen and women could bring about a behavioural change capable of cracking the epidemic of inactivity that experts say is shortening lives and draining the health service of resources and money.

Last week, the EADT revealed that nearly a quarter of Suffolk adults are now classed as obese and at risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Meanwhile, recent figures issued by NHS North Essex showed the number of obesity-related admissions to hospital had increased by 71%, from 218 in 2009-10 to 373 in 2011-12.

But Team GB’s successes are now being seen as a critical catalyst for motivating a widespread change in attitudes towards health and fitness.

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who helped fund his own medical studies by offering personal fitness training and health advice, said: “We have some world-beating athletes who should, in the short term, inspire people to engage in exercise.

“As a doctor, I know that prevention is better than cure - if people to lead healthy lifestyles, they are less likely to become unwell and more likely to live a long and healthy life.

“Some of that inspiration will inevitably fade and, in the longer term, we need to make sure we continue to tackle the problem of obesity, smoking and misuse of alcohol - particularly in young people.

“Education has to come early and we can really build on the inspiration of strong positive role models. But we must also work with food companies to reduce the amount of fat in products and get them realising that it is the right thing to do.

“We have an opportunity to make a real difference, to inspire a generation and improve lives.”

An ambitious health drive is already under way in the county, targeting 16,000 people who do little or no exercise. Backed by EADT, the campaign involves Suffolk County Council, NHS Suffolk and Healthy Ambitions Suffolk - all now hoping to take advantage of an expected surge in enthusiasm for grassroots sports following the Olympics.

Peter Funnell, executive director of Healthy Ambitions Suffolk, said: “This is a complex issue that doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions. “Success at the highest level obviously acts as a stimulus for people to participate and engage in greater levels of activity. The key is to encourage and facilitate that demand.

“We’re not all going to be Olympic stars - but even small lifestyle choices can help people realise their potential. Everyone has a responsibility to take care of their health, for themselves, their families and, to some extent, their communities.

“We need to ensure that generations of people don’t suffer preventable diseases that shorten lives and makes the years of living less rewarding. It’s in everyone’s interest, and the stories of athletes reaching the highest level through commitment and dedication can pay off with significant benefits.

The Department of Health suggests the average adult should aim to be active daily, completing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity over a week and minimising the amount of time spent being sedentary for extended periods.

The potential health benefits of regular exercise include reducing the risk of diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes.

Department figures last week showed that one in five adults smoke and around 17.5% of Year Six children are classed as obese, according to the body mass index (BMI) - calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of his/her height in metres.

Numerous initiatives have been launched since the announcement that London would host the Olympics. Last month, seven sporting organisations in Suffolk shared more than a third of a million pounds of Olympic legacy funding, including Bury Spectrum Gymnastics Club, Orford Sailing Club and Beccles Rugby Club.

In Essex, 11 projects will benefit from £500,000 of investment, including Frinton Lawn Tennis Club and the David Smith Memorial Hall and Recreational Charity in Chelmsford.

Meanwhile Live Well Suffolk, the county’s healthy lifestyle service, is aiming to build on the triumphs of the Olympic team by offering free one-to-one programmes to those wanting to get more active, as well as a range of exercise courses such as zumba, aerobics and spinning.

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